The Subject Matter Expert. I might be one of the few, but I find it difficult to communicate with them. I already established this in my previous post. The reality is that as a technical writer, we will always have to interact with the SME. Over my career, I have come up with tips to approach and interact with an SME in order to obtain the necessary information.
Before Approaching an SME
1.) Remember that the software you are testing and documenting is his or her “baby.” Long hours were put into this project and most of the time are not interested in anyone’s opinion regarding changes to their “baby.”
2.) The SME assumes that the project was programmed in a way that everyone should be able to understand it without documentation, since no one looks at it anyway.
3.) Understand there may never be a right answer to every situation. The idea is to agree.
4.) Never let the SME tell you how to write the documentation.
5.) Most SMEs I have come across do not know why something works the way it does, just that it works.
During Approach of an SME
1.) Do not be a “know-it-all” technical writer. Be someone who genuinely wants to learn how something works.
2.) Approach the SME like you are doing an interview. Have a list of short questions that are “to-the-point” so the SME can get to the answer faster.
3.) If the answer is to technical that you do not understand, ask for clarification for the end user.
4.) Quickly thank the SME for their time, but would like to get back to work while the ideas are still fresh in your mind. (Otherwise, there may be endless small talk)
How do you handle approaching an SME?