Subject Matter Experts: They Are A Confusing People


Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) always have a smart brain on his or her shoulders and are usually found hard at work programming or working diligently in a lab of choice. He spent years toiling away on a specific project that he has come to know as his baby, his pride and joy. Now enters the Technical Writer who has to learn everything there is to know about this project and create user friendly documentation. This task sounds easy until you realize you have to ask toe SME a question regarding their baby.

In my personal experience, the SME is always very excited to discuss their pride and joy project enthusiastically when they can. I have interacted with a programmer who was told what fields to enter in a program and what information to populate in the menu, but he does not always know why it populates that way. This makes documentation more difficult.

My latest project has been writing documentation for an online form program. When I ask a question to the SME, he drones on and on about specific topics, only to find out it has nothing to do with my question. One instance was when I asked if there were accounts with “real” data so I can get a better screenshot. He gave me a lecture about how the database I am using right now is internal and I can write anything I want in there and no one would see it. I had to explain to him several times that although it is internal, I need a populated screenshot, which will indeed be seen by every customer who buys access to the program and needs to look at the help manual.

Anyone else have fun stories about talking to Subject Matter Experts? Share your stories below.


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