Sometimes I would like to change my job title from "technical writer" to investigative reporter, because so often this is the task that we have. Information we need is not online, not in any documents, not even available in the application itself. We have to pry it from the minds of subject matter experts (SMEs), the techies who talk in acronyms and dream in code.
Surely one of the worst mistakes tech writers can make is to just stay in their cubes and try to figure it all out themselves. Of course you can find out a lot through research, exploration, trial and error, and tech docs. Don't discount that. But you must also get out of your cube and put on your investigative reporter hat. Call meetings, stick your head in doors, ask questions. You've got to extract information from the source.
I'm currently collecting information on the best way to get information from SMEs. If you have a technique that works well, please share it with me.
Here are some techniques I've found to work all right:
Overall, whatever technique works, it's going to require learning to be bold and insistent. If you think of yourself as an investigative reporter rather than a writer, it may be easier to get the information.
Do you have any tips or advice on SME interaction?
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I'm a technical writer based in the California San Francisco Bay area. Topics I write about on this blog include technical writing, authoring and publishing tools, API documentation, tech comm trends, visual communication, technical writing career advice, information architecture and findability, developer documentation, and more. If you're a professional or aspiring technical writer, be sure to subscribe to email updates using the form above. You can learn more about me here.