Interview subject matter experts

Last updated: February 28, 2021

When it comes to web content, the role of Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) is to ensure the facts and details are correct. The role of the writer is to communicate those facts clearly to the audience.

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When to interview

First complete a content inventory and audit. Interviews with SMEs should happen next. After that start writing or rewriting content.

Interviews are information gathering sessions that help build a shared understanding of the purpose of the content. This helps writers and SMEs communicate a clear message that meets your audience’s needs.

Types of interviews

Depending on the type of content you are writing you may consider different types of interviews:

  • Behavioural interviews
  • In-person site visits
  • Observation and shadowing

Working with SMEs

SMEs are experts in their given field and will often use policy language and jargon to explain their work. Content writers are the experts in writing for the web, it’s their job to write content that the audience can understand quickly and easily.

See the plain language for more information.

Interview questions

When you’re interviewing, remember not to take opinions as fact. Verify information you gather from interviews with data from analytics.

The answers to these questions should help define the purpose of the information or service:

  • Is there any existing feedback from your audience (from something like a survey or public engagement)?
  • Is there any existing documentation on this topic? Where? Should it be moved?
  • What needs to be improved?
  • How do you explain this concept/idea/program to a new team member?
  • Could you break it down into smaller pieces?
  • What do people usually find difficult about the concept/idea/program?
  • Who do you think the primary audience is? How does this content help them?
  • Are we currently providing web content for the right audiences?
  • Are you tracking user feedback? If so, can you share the feedback?
  • Is there information that people need to know that is not currently made public?
  • What questions do FrontCounter or ServiceBC employees get asked about this? Or if you have an office that people come into, email or call, consider which questions you get asked the most

For ministries without formal web support

  • Who owns, approves and maintains the content?
  • Do you know if there is a content life cycle plan in place? Is the plan being followed?
  • How many pages of content are there?

Working with SMEs from outside government

A Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA) is a process used to evaluate and manage privacy impacts, and to ensure compliance with privacy protection rules and responsibilities.

Any SMEs from outside government that are being interviewed must give formal consent.