Tips for Technical Writers Collaborating with SMEs

Business Technical Writing

In the realm of technical writing, the collaboration between technical writers and Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) is pivotal. It is the primary relationship on which quality technical documentation is created.

Engineers, project managers, product managers, and other stakeholders are the lifeblood of the technical writer. They provide the “who”, “what”, “when”, “why”, and “how” that technical writers use to craft their documentation.

Effective communication between technical writers and SMEs can be challenging due to differing backgrounds, priorities, and terminologies. This post explores various communication methods that can foster a more productive and harmonious working relationship between technical writers and SMEs.

Establish Clear Communication Channels

The first step towards effective collaboration is establishing clear and preferred channels of communication. Whether it’s emails, messaging apps (Slack, Microsoft Teams, etc.), or project management tools (Jira, Trello, etc.), choosing the right platform can streamline interactions and ensure that both parties are on the same page.

It’s essential to agree on a primary communication channel that suits both the technical writer and the SME, ensuring that messages are neither lost nor overlooked.

For the technical writer, it’s best to meet your SMEs where they already are. If Jira is the primary project management tool used by the engineering teams, managing your content in Jira ensures that your projects remain visible and relevant to the teams you are working with.

Schedule Regular Check-ins

Consistent and scheduled check-ins are crucial. These can take the form of weekly meetings or bi-weekly status updates, depending on the project's scale and deadlines.

Regular meetings provide an opportunity for both parties to discuss project progress, clarify doubts, and realign expectations. It’s a dedicated time to address concerns, share updates, and brainstorm solutions to potential issues.

These meetings may not need to happen at every scheduled instance, but it’s a big help to have that time blocked off in case you need it.

Use Visual Aids and Prototypes

Technical concepts and processes can sometimes be difficult to articulate through words alone.

Utilizing visual aids such as diagrams, flowcharts, and prototypes can significantly enhance understanding. These tools can help in breaking down complex ideas into digestible pieces, making it easier for technical writers to grasp the subject matter and for SMEs to convey their expertise more effectively.

These visual aids can even become part of your documentation. Having their feedback at early stages in the draft saves you both time.

Implement Collaborative Documentation Tools

Leveraging collaborative documentation tools such as Google Docs, Confluence, or Microsoft Teams allows both technical writers and SMEs to work on documents simultaneously.

These platforms enable real-time feedback, revisions, and suggestions, which can significantly reduce turnaround times and improve document accuracy. Additionally, version control features ensure that changes are tracked, providing transparency and accountability in the documentation process.

Every company has its preferred collaborative platform. Find out what the teams are using and join them there.

Develop a Shared Glossary

Technical fields often come with their jargon and acronyms, which can be a barrier to understanding for those outside the field, including technical writers.

Creating a shared glossary of terms relevant to the project can help mitigate misunderstandings and ensure consistency throughout the documentation. Both parties should contribute to and have access to this glossary, which should be updated regularly as the project evolves.


The relationship between technical writers and SMEs is fundamental to the creation of effective documentation. It’s key to getting the information the writer needs.

By establishing clear communication channels, scheduling regular check-ins, utilizing visual aids, leveraging collaborative tools, developing a shared glossary, embracing empathy, and providing constructive feedback, both parties can work together more effectively.

These communication methods not only enhance the quality of the final product but also foster a collaborative and respectful working relationship between technical writers and SMEs. As the field of technical writing continues to evolve, so too will the strategies for effective communication, underscoring the importance of adaptability and continuous improvement in these professional interactions.

Photo by Dylan Gillis on Unsplash

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