You know the drill. The meeting is in the small conference room at the far end of some cheap airport hotel. Inside, there’s nothing to sustain you until lunch but tepid coffee and stale cheese danish dusted with spilled non-dairy creamer. Yet, for some reason, instead of bonding over a shared fate, the participants quickly divide into two camps — the experts and the interlopers.
A SME chuckles about “you English majors.” Your publications manager mutters something about “those knuckle-draggers.” And that’s just the morning of the first day.
Whether you write instructional textbooks, online help content, user guides, or even feature articles, as a technical writer you rely on the people who know the topic better than anyone else — subject matter experts, or SMEs. Likewise, SMEs rely on you to interpret and translate their information, to present it clearly and accurately, and to make it easy for the reader to understand and follow.
Nevertheless, writers and SMEs often have difficulty establishing a collaborative relationship, and the resulting friction only hurts the final product.
Like it or not, it’s up to you to establish a good working relationship with your SMEs right from the start. Here’s how: