What to Expect When Working with a Technical Writer or Instructional Designer

If you’ve never partnered with a technical writer to create essential documentation or sat down with an instructional designer to develop impactful training, it can be tough to know what to expect. Even if you have, these projects require close collaboration with subject matter experts (SMEs) within your business who hold valuable insights, and those SMEs might be hesitant to devote their time to a project they don’t fully understand.

At Radcom, we spend countless hours talking to SMEs, and we know that a little bit of guidance on what to expect can go a long way towards granting peace of mind… and ultimately making a project successful. That’s why we’ve put together a rundown of four things an SME should know about interactions with a technical writer or instructional designer. Read through the information below, share it with SMEs who may need to be interviewed soon, and don’t forget to check out our Quality Assurance Checklist explained toward the end!

Interviewers Don’t Want to Waste Your Time.

They just need some of it.

While the amount varies depending on the size and complexity of the training or documentation project you’re undertaking, time will need to be set aside for SMEs to talk with an interviewer, provide source materials, and review outputs. Experienced information gatherers know that SMEs are some of the busiest people within a company (they are experts, after all), and being interviewed isn’t likely at the top of their to-do lists. Interviewers will seek to make the experience as efficient as possible, allowing your company’s most knowledgeable resources to get back to accomplishing other important tasks.

A good training or documentation professional values the SME’s time as much as their knowledge, and will be prepared to tap into it efficiently. Expect interviewers to be prepared, focused, and flexible to make good use of everyone’s time. They should have done a bit of homework to prepare for meetings, may provide questions in advance, and will keep the conversation focused and productive. Consider providing any useful reference materials (such as manuals, surveys or end-user feedback) to the interviewers as soon as possible, to minimize the amount of time needed for face-to-face interactions and calls.

These interviewers are seasoned professionals.

That’s why they’re here.

SMEs should understand that the company didn’t hire just anyone to put together important training or technical documentation; they have contracted with experienced professionals who know their trade well. These interviewers don’t know the subject matter as well as the SMEs, but they know how to efficiently gather information and effectively transfer that knowledge to the end user.

Expect quality products that faithfully conveys what end users of final deliverables need to know. To get there, expect training and documentation professionals to be strong writers with good organizational and strategic thinking skills that can distill information down into what is most relevant. They should also be thorough, following up in a timely manner and keeping all necessary parties informed throughout the process.

Everyone wants this to be a painless process.

There’s no need to feel apprehensive.

Even the most knowledgeable SME can feel nervous about being interviewed, but a good information gatherer should be able to put them at ease. The best professionals will set clear expectations and help everyone prepare, communicating clearly about the objectives of the project, the business goals associated with the endeavor, and the SME’s role in driving success. If anyone still feels uneasy about the process, an interviewer can send thought starters ahead of any conversations and can give examples of the sort of insights they are hoping to receive. Seasoned, knowledge-capture professionals can work with whatever you have, whether it’s verbal explanations or existing resources that provide additional insight.

Reviews are serious business.

They take time, but it’s worth it.

Once information gatherers have compiled all applicable insights and developed drafts, expect that they will run everything by you. Plan accordingly for reviews and approvals—these take time and are crucial to ensuring project deliverables provide maximum value to the business. Keep in mind that SME reviewers should be checking primarily for information accuracy, and they should not expect to do major editing. Technical writers and instructional designers should know how to synthesize information for the end user and how much information those end users need. SMEs simply need to ensure the details are correct.

For a comprehensive understanding of what goes into ensuring you receive project outputs that will provide real value, take a look at our Quality Assurance Checklist we send to clients when it’s time for reviews. It gives an understanding of what our editors are looking for during reviews and the time commitment involved. SMEs can rest assured that if they stick to reviewing information accuracy, the final drafts will still end up in great shape.

It’s all for the good of the business.

Your support is appreciated!

SMEs have a big role to play in developing useful outputs of training and technical writing projects, and they should take pride in knowing they’re making a difference for their organizations. SMEs are involved in these projects in the first place because both internal and external stakeholders value their contributions to the business. As writers and instructional designers, we thank you for your help!

Have more questions around expectations? Want to know what interviewers will need from you for the most productive outcomes? Reach out; we are happy to talk it through.