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Subject Matter Experts and Technical Documentation

10th February 2012 Posted in Blog, Documentation, Technical Writers 0 Comments

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While you might already be an expert in technical writing, there is always someone else who is better informed (assuming you’re not the leading expert, of course) on the inner workings of what you’re documenting.  These people are called subject matter experts (SME) and they’re an invaluable resource when you’re looking to create the most accurate documentation possible.

Where to Find Subject Matter Experts

Much of the time, companies will already have access to SMEs on the technical matters they want to have compiled into a document. A technical writer might have access to this SME as a part of his or her assignment (the SME could be part of the team), or SMEs may have to be sought out.  Once the SME is identified, the technical writer will need to:

  • Research the topic and the person – It can help to research the topic ahead of time to avoid wasting the SME’s time, and it also helps to know something about the SME to understand how best to make the approach.
  • Get a clear list of topics to cover – You should prepare for your meeting with an SME much as you’d prepare for anthing else. Get a feel for what you don’t understand so you can prepare your questions in advance. If you’re not absolutely sure on something, you’ll want to bring it up with the SME for verification.
  • Interview the SME – The technical writer will then interview the SME to see what information the SME can offer about the particular subject. While you should have a list of questions in advance, listen carefully if the SME decides to offer some wisdom that’s outside the realm of those questions. This can lead to additional questions you hadn’t even considered when you prepared for the interview.
  • Compile the information and create the document – Once the information has been gathered, then the technical writing begins.

An SME can bring to the table a deeper understanding of details that you may not be able to uncover elsewhere on your own. An SME can also point you to other reliable resources for more information.  This can create a high quality technical document, one that accurately covers what a user might need to know.

By making an effort to avoid wasting the SME’s time, you can strengthen your relationship with the SME for future projects. Building a respectful relationship with SMEs will make your life as a technical writer much easier and more enjoyable.

Related topics:
Managing SMEs Part 1: A Primer for Success
Managing SMEs Part 2: Selling the Concept to Management

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