RE: SMEs and me

Subject: RE: SMEs and me
From: "Fisher, Melissa" <Melissa -dot- Fisher -at- delta-air -dot- com>
To: 'TECHWR-L' <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>, 'Sierra Godfrey' <kittenbreath -at- hotbot -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 5 Jul 2000 15:19:30 -0400

Sierra is having problems with her SME again...

>How often do SMEs give you their write-up of a manual, or at least the
>information, before you start on your work? Would you say that this is a
>common thing to happen?

Get information *before* I start work? Can I get a job there? <g>
Seriously, occasionally an SME will have a collection of notes, or pages
from an internal training session they conducted to give to me. The degree
to which this is common I think depends on the maturity level and
chronological age of the organization. Younger, less mature companies have
less stuff to give you.

>If you do have experience with SMEs giving you their information in what
they >think is a manual (or other output) format, how much liberty do you
take to >change it into readable and digestible information (what we all are
trained to do >as technical writers)?

As much liberty as I need to accomplish the task set by my manager. If my
task is somewhat vaguely described as "create this manual," then it gets a
little trickier. Some companies want a tech writer to work magic and produce
award-winning material - it's a plus with marketing or support or their
collective ego or whatever. Some companies just want the docs to get done
and know they need to hire someone to do it. The latter type of company
probably prefers inter-department harmony to advanced communication theory.

>This goes back to an earlier post about the engineer here infecting my mind
>with his propaganda. I ask the questions above because I'm catching a lot
of >flack now from him for formatting his information (with much addition of
my own >research) into a user manual, different from the way he originally
wrote it. He >didn't want anything changed.

The fact is, very few writers report to SMEs. If you do not report to this
SME, then yes, you do have to get along with him, but no, you do not have to
do things his way (unless your boss tells you so). Having said that, try to
look objectively at the situation and see if there is a reason that you
should do things the SME's way. He may have a perspective you aren't aware
of and in that perspective, his way may make more sense.

Two things - no, three, Three things you need to figure out:

1. Who are you being paid to please? Your customers, your boss, your STC
judging comittee, your SME, yourself?

2. What are the obstacles to #1?

3. Where are these obstacles on the food chain in relation to you?

Once you figure this out (and the formula varies from company to company)
you will have a better grip on what kind of crap you can put up with from

>And while we're at it, how often do you have the problem of just being
about to >send the manual off to the printer and then being told you can't
because there >are so many changs to be made suddenly by the SME? What do
you do other >than stress out?

Happens all too often. Stress out if you must, but more importantly, find
out if you can still meet your deadline. If not, make sure your boss knows -
and knows why, whether it's because you goofed and didn't get the right info
the first time, because the product changed at the last minute, or becuase
SME is picking nits or withholding information or just being stubborn.

This is either a personality issue or a quality-of-work issue. In either
case the problems can be overcome, as long as both you and the SME have the
same answer to #1 above.

Melissa Fisher
melissa -dot- fisher -at- delta-air -dot- com
(404) 773-8674

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