Technical writing is HARD, especially for those of us who use our right brain and rarely think in terms of math or sequences. Sometimes, tech talk just goes right over our heads.
Although we may speak different languages, it’s imperative that we find a way to understand what our IT clients want their customer’s to know about their business, hence the need for us to understand how to effectively interview an IT Subject Matter Expert (SME). So, here are 5 tips to help you the next time you need to write technical content.
Set A Goal
Ask yourself, what is the purpose of this SME interview? Whether you’re designing an infographic, writing an ebook or creating a blog, you need to go into your interview with a specific goal in mind—and you should share your goal with the SME too (this will ensure you’re on the same page during your conversation).
An example goal might be: I need to understand the “data center migration” process and why it’s important for my audience to understand it.
Know Your Stuff
If you’re writing about a data center, you should definitely go into the interview knowing what one is. Google it. Your research should go beyond simply looking at the customer-facing website.
You should read industry-specific publications, search for trends and updates involving the topic at hand. If possible, try to acquire marketing documents such as proposals, sales collateral, and existing specification or data sheets so that you can begin to gain a sense of how the product or solution is being positioned, and what features are resonating with customers or potential customers.
It might benefit you to dig up some info on the SME you plan to interview. Understanding his or her role and their area of expertise can help you gain an understanding of how you should approach the conversation.
A SME who spends his time racking and stacking data center equipment will have a totally different viewpoint than a SME who architects data centers from his computer.
Prepare Your Questions In Advance
You may be thinking “duh,” but it has to be said. Use the research you have compiled, in tandem with the goal you’ve set, to develop a list of questions for your interview. Let’s use the data center migration example again; here are a few sample questions you might want to use (remember, you’ve done your research, so you’re not going in blind).
In your own words, what does data center migration entail?
Why, Mr. SME, is data center migration so important to your clients?
What do your clients want to know about data center migration?
Be Flexible & Thoughtful
This is very important when scheduling the interview. Offer 3-4 pre-selected dates and times so that your interviewee can select a time that is convenient for them.
If you’re comfortable doing so, send over the list of questions you’ve prepared so that the SME has time to prepare and is fully aware of the content that will be covered.
Record The Interview
There WILL be things you miss and you can’t have an effective interview while taking notes—it’s too much multitasking for your right brain to handle. There will also be terms and phrases you’re probably not familiar with. Hit record and let your computer do the work while you engage in truly active listening.
Lastly, don’t be afraid. Techies are just people like you and me, they are usually very passionate about their occupation and more than happy to talk about it without noticing that what they are saying is flying over everyone’s head.
All kidding aside, our job is to get that expert knowledge out there for our audience to consume and we can’t do that without the expert. Be sure to thank your SME for his or her time and share the piece of content you’ve written or created once complete, so that they can observe the fruits of their efforts. Happy interviewing!