PS has worked as a freelance writer since 2012. When she's not traveling and writing, she helps people with web design and development.
Subject Matter Experts establish credibility in the content often required by non-fiction writers and journalists. For my own projects, I interviewed various professionals such as teachers, real estate agents, engineers, lenders, principals, marketers, and nurses for different published works. The information collected from these field experts has helped me strengthen my every piece of work and enriched me with plenty of useful information for future writing projects.
But first, what is a Subject Matter Expert?
A Subject Matter Expert (SME) is a specialist who excels in a particular field. They either possess a higher qualification or multiple years of experience in a specific topic and thus, can help us to deliver more trustworthy articles to the readers if quoted by them. Generally, these SMEs are well-published professionals, which gives us an opportunity to cite their featured work giving our work higher credibility.
It is just not about writing, SMEs are present and required in every field whether it’s technical, mechanical, electrical or any other -al.
How to find SMEs?
There’s a trick involved in finding the right SMEs. For example, if you are assigned a project on the latest Artificial Intelligence(AI) trends, but you know only a little about AI technologies. Then, you, obviously, need to research the topic and possibly find an SME who can help you with the project. Here are some tips to help you find the best expert:
LinkedIn is surely the first choice of help-seeking professionals. Find companies who work on building AI products. Begin with creating a great technical writer’s profile, join an AI LinkedIn group. LinkedIn groups are very responsive, you can find several AI experts ready to help you and quote themselves for your publication.
2. University and College Staff
Visit your local institute for AI professors and researchers. Search online and locate the university and college staff specialized in AI to reach the potential experts. You can also find their social media handles as well as email addresses through this method.
3. Search Engine is your Best Friend
Search using keywords like “Artificial Intelligence Experts”, “Artificial Intelligence researchers or associates” or whatever the project you are working on. Most of the experts run their own websites or are active on their social media accounts to take the queries, which you can easily find through search engines.
4. Use Social Media Effectively
Social media is a great way to seek professional help. You’ll need to post several times a day or more to get your query to the attention of SMEs.
5. Get your Hands on Specialty Journals
Journals are a record of works published by the field experts. Look for your project-specific journals. Read them, find the relevancy, write the title, paragraph brief, and author’s contact information.
6. Talk to a librarian
Librarians are very well aware of the useful resources and can guide you with anything and everything. Tell them what you are preparing for. Most of the libraries are filled with necessary telephone numbers and email addresses.
7. Search Booksellers
In the beginning, I was a little amazed to realize that almost every topic you can think of is covered in books. Amazon, being the biggest bookseller in the whole world, has content both from big publishers and self-published authors. You can find their websites through the author’s bio on the Amazon website and get the contact information. Do the same research on other books selling websites as well, such as Barnes and Noble.
8. Niche Job Boards
Unlike the large job posting sites such as Monster and Indeed, niche job boards are available only for posting specialized job openings. The list is short and has higher chances of finding the right candidates. Since most likely only specialized professionals are going to visit these sites.
Maintain a record of these experts, including their names, phone numbers, affiliations, email addresses, and websites along with the specialized field. You will be doing multiple projects on different topics, it is important to maintain this database to invest your time in other areas. You can use FileMaker or Access database software for better maintenance of your records.
Visit and Interview
After finding important people for your projects, get ready to contact them. Always remember quality precedes quantity. You only 3 to 4 experts to build a reliable project.
- Send an email stating your topic and publication where your article will be published.
- If there’s no response after several days, try to call.
- Set up a time to interview after you have received the response from the expert.
- Most experts respect your request, but they are short on time. Keep a meaningful brief contact with them.
- Plan all questions in advance.
- Prepare yourself with prerequisite knowledge on the topic.
Some Important Questions to Ask the SMEs
Even if a person is an SME, it doesn’t conclude that he/she is a perfect fit for your project. To make sure you have found the right person, get ready to prepare the following questions to ask them:
- Verify Credentials (learn about their websites and latest work)
- Availability at present and in future
- Readiness to Help
- Current Experience
- Years of Expertise in the Particular Field
- Subject Influence Level
- Compatible Personality with Your Own
The best SMEs match all these criteria. On the last point, if your personality is not enough compatible with SME, this if you can adapt to their needs to get the best information for your project. SMEs are not fixed, they change over time, they either retire or move on.
Also, finally their availability time and days. It is possible their available days may not match with yours, so you might need to look for someone else.
Some Essential Qualities to Look for in Your SMEs (in addition to the above-mentioned questions)
Are they ready to take a hands-on approach?
An SME must be fully prepared to delve into the insights of your projects to create highly engaging content. Instead of looking for those who sit back and ask you to carry out certain tasks, look for those who are proactive and ready to offer their nights when there is a requirement.
Does their Level of Experience in a Particular Field really Beneficial for Your Project?
It may sound awkward, but having multiple years of experience in a certain field doesn’t always ensure you have found the right person. For example, if you are looking for experts in autonomous vehicles, they may know about them, but may not be fully aware of how to integrate it with the latest results found through research and development. To make sure he/she is the rightful resource for you, frame the question from the area that you find most challenging and is the soul of your project.
Are they efficient enough to outline each step of their work process?
The real SMEs are skilled enough to give a brief about every step of their work process, such as their method conducting research and choosing key aspects. They should be able to catch with your work process and inject the necessary stages to build a project. In short, SME needs to be flexible with their workflow.
Is their personality compatible with your team?
If you work in a team, you have to consider choosing an SME keeping your whole team in mind. Invite them to your team meetings and check if there are any personality clashes with other members of your team. They must have respect and empathy for others’ opinions.
Professional success grows on strong relationships. You need to know the art of cultivating strong friendships with the SMEs for long-term purposes.
- Practice good communication, listening and body language skills.
- Understand the SME’s personality. It is important to know their preferences, whether they prefer email or phone.
- Be thoughtful of their time constraints while asking questions. In other words, maintain an organized and planned structure of questions and left little time to explore other questions that arise from SME’s replies.
- As a professional courtesy, make sure to email your manuscript and the final copy to the experts before sending it for publication to ensure a high-end accuracy.
- Remember, they are specialists they may have some additional helpful points, which you may not have even thought about. This shows respect for their expertise.
- Send them a token of appreciation through a holiday or thank you cards.
- Ask them about other projects to build a better communication level.
- Show your gratitude. Check-in, often, to see how they are doing.
Regardless of the specialization, an SME needs to be proficient in writing and communication skills. Also, most of them have their work published as a podcast, webinar, ebook, white paper or through any other medium. SMEs can have a very deep impact on your career and business, so choose wisely and grow steadily.