Online groups, winter 2013

Information from SMEs

Members gave much advice about how to get information from a subject-matter expert (SME).

SMEs are busy. Sometimes, they do not want to speak with a technical communicator. Sometimes, they do not have time to speak with a technical communicator. Ideally, speaking with a technical communicator is part of a SMEs job. Do not expect a SME to give answers immediately. Ask the SME about the deadlines for a project and organize a meeting.

One organization uses agile methods. All the SMEs know that they must review the work of a technical communicator every two weeks.

If a SME continuously does not give you the information that you need, then tell your manager. Your manager's job is to make sure that you get the support that you need to do your job.

Be understanding. The things that are important to you are not important to the SME. Be friendly all the time, not only when you want an answer. Engineers like to speak about their work. Instead of only trying to get answers to your questions, let SMEs 'show off' what they developed.

Before you speak with a SME, get as much information as possible about the product or the topic that you want to know about. Find sources of information such as illustrations and specifications. Speak to people who use the product and to people who make, install, and repair the product. Make a list of questions to ask. Possibly, send those questions to the SME before the meeting.

When you speak with the SME, do not say that you understand when you do not understand. Continue to ask questions until you understand fully.

After you have an answer, think about it and then say it in your own words to make sure that your understanding is correct.

Some members suggest that you write some content, and then ask a SME to review that content. For many people, to correct content that exists is easier than trying to explain something. However, incorrect content is likely to irritate some SMEs. Sometimes, to go to an SME with a 'blank page' is better than to go with incorrect information.

Sometimes, you can watch a SME do a task and ask questions as you watch. Sometimes, recording a meeting is useful, specially if there are many people in the meeting.

Members suggested these resources:

Microsoft SharePoint as a CMS

In a publications department of an organization, the technical communicators use FrameMaker and other software from Adobe. However, the other parts of the organization use Microsoft Office. A member is researching the use of single-sourcing and the use of a content management system (CMS). People in the organization want to use Microsoft SharePoint as the CMS. What are the advantages and the disadvantages of SharePoint as a CMS?

A member who maintains SharePoint thinks that SharePoint is not a good CMS. SharePoint is three different products that are not integrated correctly. Probably, you can make SharePoint do the CMS functions, but to customize SharePoint, you need to know how to write code, and you need time to search the Internet for solutions to problems.

Other members wrote that SharePoint is good at version control and permissions. SharePoint can be difficult to use. However, it is excellent for sharing documents, sharing calendars, managing projects, tracking tasks, and reviewing documents.

SharePoint can be customized. SharePoint has much support and you will easily find resources to develop a SharePoint installation. The cost is not cheap. For SharePoint to operate well, high-specification server computers are necessary.

Think about what you want to achieve. If you want only a set of Word files and PDF files, then SharePoint is sufficient. However, if you want outputs such as CHM, then an authoring tool is necessary.

Members suggested these resources:


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