Re: Interviewing Subject Matter Experts

Subject: Re: Interviewing Subject Matter Experts
From: "John Fleming" <johnf -at- ecn -dot- ab -dot- ca>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 16 May 2001 09:05:28 -0600

> Subject: Re: Interviewing Subject Matter Experts
> From: Tom Murrell <trmurrell -at- yahoo -dot- com>
> Date: Tue, 15 May 2001 11:24:34 -0700 (PDT)
> X-Message-Number: 30

> Under the heading of not all things work for everyone, I note the
> snippet.

--- Jo Baer <jbaer -at- mailbox1 -dot- tcfbank -dot- com> wrote:
> >
> > Actually, I don't interview SMEs in person all that often. I use a
> > and
> > answer template that I developed (took about ten minutes) and
submit written
> > questions along with any relevant written materials, such as a
> > requirements document or a draft of a manual chapter. I make my
> > questions as specific as possible, and often give a page (and
> > paragraph) reference so the SME can go back to the document in

> I'm not criticizing this method, especially if it works, but I've
not had
> success submitting written questions to SMEs and getting responses
(let alone
> timely responses). My experience has been that SMEs resent the extra
> and think the writer is trying to get them to do the writer's work
for the
> writer.

My experience with written responses from SMEs is that they can be
pretty cryptic at times. I have one piece in my inbox, an update to
an existing procedure, where the SME notes are more cryptic than the

They can also be pretty good. I once did a descriptive piece to
explain the process behind a function in some billing software.
Result. Two pages of descriptive text and fourteen pages of sample
calculations--all from a two page e-mail. (Oddly enough, the sample
calculations were more for my benefit--it helped me understand the
process. When the project supervisor discovered they existed, she
suggested sending them back to the SME for validation--along with the
descriptive document.)

Still, like Tom below, I find I have more success with face-to-face
interviews. I do, however, prefer something closer to an hour, and
for complex documents, sometimes even more time.

> I have a lot more success with the face-to-face. I try to limit the
> involved to short bursts rather than having to clear a lot of time
on someone
> else's schedule. I prefer the 30 minute Q&A to the two hour, or half
a day,
> meeting. And I do my leg work ahead of time by reading everything we
have on a
> product, feature, or process. That way I'm not asking basic
questions the SMEs
> have already answered in some preliminary document.


John Fleming
Technical Writer
Edmonton, Alberta
email: johnf -at- ecn -dot- ab -dot- ca


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