10 ways to be a good SME

This article from guest contributor Janice King offers a new perspective on how to create high-quality marketing materials by putting together a subject matter expert and a writer. Keep these tips in mind if you provide subject knowledge or share a writer with the engineers and other experts in your company.


Have you ever been a SME?

As a technical copywriter, I enjoy working with engineers and other subject-matter expects (SMEs).

After all, I routinely interview SMEs for the white papers and other materials I write.

But as a SME, there are several things you can do to make everyone’s job easier, and create a more collaborative and productive relationship with a writer.

Here are my top ten ways to be a good SME.

photo of woman with lightbulbs over head to signify ideas

Be a good SME tip #1: Respect the fact that you know the product, and the writer knows good writing.

Be a good SME tip #2: Don’t use the writing process as a political tactic.

Don’t make it a substitute for the thinking and discussion that needs to happen offline about the topic, or worse, about the product itself.

Be a good SME tip #3: Resolve any disagreements about comments made by others.

Don’t make the writer be the referee for issues you can’t resolve in-house.

Be a good SME tip #4: Remember, if a product feature is in writing, you have to deliver it.

Don’t let any brochure, data sheet, or white paper promise anything beyond what a customer can buy today. Clearly label any exceptions—such as a product roadmap or “wish list”—for what they are.

Be a good SME tip #5: Understand the type and scope of the document.

Watch for the temptation to create a “kitchen sink” document that presents everything you know about the topic.

Be a good SME tip #6: Learn the differences between features and benefits.*

A feature’s mere presence in the product does not make it a benefit.

Be a good SME tip #7: Be specific in your comments.

If part of the text isn’t clear, indicate precisely what you mean to say. Explain what is confusing or what it should present.

Be a good SME tip #8: Understand that marketing isn’t really “fluff.”

Copywriters are indeed trying to give customers clear and useful information.

Be a good SME tip #9: If you are providing a first draft, don’t struggle with it for days on end.

It’s faster and more useful for you to give the writers complete and accurate input, and let them rewrite it into a polished document.

Be a good SME tip #10: Remember that the writer has to comply with your corporate publication rules and style.

You may not like those rules, but your material probably isn’t special enough to go against them.


* Not sure about the difference? Check my book, Copywriting That Sells High Tech, which presents a wealth of useful techniques, tips, and ideas to help with writing your own materials.

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