Apparently, the most challenging task for any technical writer is to extract complete and accurate information from the Subject Matter Expert (SME). This task becomes even more difficult if the SME is placed onsite or work in different time zone. However, while setting a target date for the interview with SME, always keep a buffer time to accommodate for unforeseen circumstances like the following:
- SME is on an urgent leave
- SME is busy in urgent development work
- SME is not organized
- Connectivity issues/technical difficulties occur in the meeting
If you consider the above factors while setting the timelines for your document, your flow of activities will not come to a halt when you face any such situation. It is better to be prepared than be caught by surprise.
So far we have discussed those situations on which you don’t have control over however the actual difficulties start once the SME is ready to meet you for an interview. There can be various types of SMEs with whom you will find difficulties during the course of information gathering. Some of these SMEs are as follows:
- SMEs who are hostile in nature: They will always think that technical writing is just a waste of time. They are already worked up with their usual development tasks and get more frustrated when they have to spare some time to give us information on the product. They are reluctant to give you complete information. To deal with them, you will need to ask frequent questions and paraphrase the information they have provided. Even after this, if you they are getting very difficult then you should immediately discuss this with your seniors so that they can talk to the appropriate people in order to provide alternative sources of information.
- SMEs who are not punctual: You can also come across SMEs who always push the meetings and delay reviews and information. They always make excuses of their tight work schedules. If they practice it too often, then it’s the time to let all the stakeholders know about this. SMEs with poor communication skills: You will find lots of ambiguity in the information provided by such SMEs. Apart from showing patience, you will need to frequently paraphrase the information until you get the correct and complete information.
- SMEs with rich experience on the topic: The problem with these SMEs is that they know too much and like talking more on the topic. This will not only consume lots of time but also results in leaving majority of your questions unanswered. You can politely let them know that you are looking for specific and limited information and if needed, you will leverage upon their rich experience and understanding on the topic.
- SMEs with less experience on the topic: You will rarely face such SMEs however it is always good to know the approach to deal with them. For many reasons, these SMEs might have less understanding on the topic. They will not be able to provide you complete information on the topic. You must alarm all the stakeholders about this in order to get timely resolution.