RE: What then is the SME/TW functional relationship? (was Re: The ory vs. Practice (was: What's a TW etc...)

Subject: RE: What then is the SME/TW functional relationship? (was Re: The ory vs. Practice (was: What's a TW etc...)
From: "Wilcox, Rose (ZB5646)" <Rose -dot- Wilcox -at- pinnaclewest -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 28 Feb 2002 11:00:06 -0700

<<My comment: Of what use are Subject Matter Experts, then? If a SME is
on the project as a 'consultant' and has no actual responsibility for the
product, then is the SME to be asked to review the product on 'final
approach' only? Ever?

I do not think that was implied by the quote responded to. I haven't been
in this thread that much, but I tend to be more of a writer than editor by
the current definitions by nature (although my current job includes more
editing than writing, not my choice.) The ideal process with the TW/SME
relationship, by my lights, would look something like this:

Documentation need identified
- Could be by management, user, SME, or TW

Initially gathering info
- TW is responsible for, but interviews management, user, and SME to gather

Prepare doc plan
- TW based on info gathered and expertise as a writer, recommending outline
and presentation (ex., online/hardcopy) and planning for risks (ex., lack of
SME time, no working prototype, etc.)

Give feedback, approve doc plan
- iterative process participated in by management, SME, writer, and,
ideally, user

Write to approved doc plan
- using interview, previously created material, prototypes, code reading,
and so forth, the writer fills in the outline and creates to the
documentation submitting drafts based on a review plan outlined in the
previously approved content plan (which should have identified reviewers and

- reviews ideally (and life rarely has met my ideals) should include
"technical content", proofing/style (internal editor position or peer
reviews by other writers), and final stamp of approval reflecting content
ownership by management, SMEs and tech writing team

User Acceptance
- Ideally, the user will "test" the documentation before final approval and
can create defects or bug tracking against the document as well as the

Maintenance and Storage
- ideally, an organization will include processes for maintaining a document
as well as guarding its value with proper storage of all source files

If the TW has no requirement to submit the product for review by the SME,
then why is the SME on the project / development team in the first place?
Does the TW just check in with the SME if there are a few *minor* (who gets
to judge what is minor? The TW? The SME?) questions?

Why is there only one possible relationship between a SME and TW in the
first place? Why is it all "black and white"? Ideally, I own the content
for communication and the SME owns the content for accuracy. Ideally, I, as
a technical writer, know when my interpretation of the SMEs info (whether
obtained by written copy, in person interview, reading code, email
interview, etc.) is shaky. Ideally, the SME reads the information carefully
to determine whether or not my interpretation of the facts communicates
truth. Ideally, our team work creates quality.

As a person who cares passionately about the quality of my work, it behooves
me to understand the SMEs information to the best of my ability. If this
means that I need to study some background information on the subject
matter, I will do so. Ultimately, I cannot control the quality of the SMEs
review. (Many times, in real life, I can't even get a SMEs review, which is
a whole 'nother thread!) To ensure the highest quality, I will understand
the material to the best of my ability. In fact, it is part of what I love
about my career. I am a dilettante of knowledge but an expert in
communicating that knowledge. Being a contract technical writer has
afforded me glimpses into a number of technical subjects.

My relationships with my SME ideally a teamwork relationship where we work
together to ensure the highest quality of documentation. The ownership of
the document ideally is the team. I think of myself as the final owner of
documentation quality, which includes trying to get the best deal for the
document. This includes doing my part to be as educated as possible about
the content, but it also includes motivating and communicating with my SME
to get the best possible information and reviews from my SME.

In real life, I have SMEs that won't talk to me at all, SMEs that won't
review a document, management that doesn't care about the quality of
documents, and users who don't even know that good documentation is a
possibility. I have a lot of educating to do here, and change in this
organization takes years. In the meantime, I am still occasionally
producing documentation <wry grin>, and it behooves me to make it as good as
I can within the constraints I live within.

In real life, my relationship with the SME is constrained by corporate
culture and the personality, experiences, and proclivities of each
individual SME. In addition, there are some documents that I can write
without much SME input and review and be sure they are useful. So in that
case, the SME is only there "as needed". I have been writing for 18 years
and do know a bit about sumwhat. :-)

I don't know if that answers the question, but heck, it was fun writing it!

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