You may be unfamiliar with the acronym above right now, but you will discover soon after embarking on your technical writing career that SME stands for subject matter expert. A good technical writer will have an aptitude for technical subjects, but they're not expected to be experts.
This is particularly true if the writer has been asked to describe a brand-new technology, computer program, or production process. For this reason, most writers will be given access to a subject matter expert. This individual will know everything there is to know about the process or product you are writing about; they'll be able to answer questions nobody else can. Interviewing them will be essential if you hope to develop an informative and effective document. Once your client has provided you with the contact information for the SME you will be working with, keep the following tips in mind:
Look over your other resources before you request an interview: Along with access to an SME, your client will likely provide you with documentation and other information about your topic. Read over this information before you schedule an interview. That way, you'll have a clear picture of the information you need and the main areas you should focus on during your meeting with the SME.
Be prepared: After you've reviewed the documentation and decided what type of information you need from the SME, prepare a list of questions. This will ensure you don't forget anything, will help you focus on the information you need, and will make the interview go quicker and more smoothly.
Remember, the SME is a subject matter expert: Since the SME knows so much about the topic, it may be hard for him or her to explain concepts in plain English. That's where you come in. As a technical writer, it's not your job to regurgitate the highly technical information provided to you by the SME. Instead, you have to adapt the information so it will be understood by your target audience.
Last Updated: 05/05/2014