How to Talk to an SME

Craig Cardimon - MSG in a Bottle By Craig Cardimon, Senior Technical Writer

Subject Matter Experts (SMEs to the rest of you) are people, too. Terribly, horribly busy people that some of us need to communicate with.

Suppose a technical writer like myself needs to interview an SME about, say, new functionality that has been added to a company application. How would I proceed? Glad you asked!

Make an appointment with them. They might cancel on you a few times before you catch up with them, but take the trouble to set up an appointment anyway. If they seem reluctant to make such a commitment, respond by saying you know they’re busy and respect their time.

This usually works. If they shake their heads and say, “Just stop by,” simply ask them what day and time works best for them. When you get your answer, write it down immediately. Then create a calendar reminder for yourself.

Outline what you are going to ask beforehand. It might be wise to write out your “script” even before you try to make an appointment. Why? Suppose the SME says, “Right now works for me. Are you ready?” You want to say, “That’s great! I’m ready now, too.”

You don’t want to have to say, “Now’s not a good time for me.” You will have blown your chance to make a fantastic impression on the SME. You want to know the who, what, when, where, why, and how of the interview topic.

I usually demonstrate my level of preparedness by knocking on the SME’s office door while holding my smartphone (with voice recorder at the ready) as well as notepad and at least two pens. Why two? In case one runs dry in the middle of the interview. I picked up this trick while working as a reporter for the school newspaper in college. Borrowing a writing instrument from your subject looks unprofessional.

Now, about that voice recorder…..Talk the SME into letting you use a recorder. I tell them that I can capture everything they say the FIRST time, and won’t have to bother them later for anything but clarification. They won’t have to repeat themselves. I haven’t had an SME turn me down yet.

Speaking about clarification, ask the SME if it’s okay if you clarify any sticking points that crop up later. Points of confusion always appear, so plan for them now. Something you understand when the SME explains it will immediately become muddy when you get back to your desk and look at your notes.
When you’re concluding the interview, thank the SME for their time and ask if they would like to see your finished transcript of the interview before you put it in the documentation. If they say they trust you, meaning they want to get on with their day, ask them if they would like to review the transcript for technical accuracy, because they’re the expert, and you aren’t. They usually agree. If they don’t, send them a copy anyway, mentioning that it’s for their convenience so they know what they said, and remember to thank them again for their time.

The QUIRK’S Event

We just returned from the second annual QUIRK’S event in Brooklyn. They did it again! There were over 1200 people registered and they had to turn some people away (we definitely understand the value in signing up early for this event).

There was a healthy mix of existing clients from the GENESYS, PRO-T-S, ARCS and U-Dial sides of our business as well as hundreds of corporate researchers.

Rick and Chewie

The exhibit hall was filled with more companies and booths than last year and even the hallways were lined with market research solution providers.

Both days were jam packed with sessions to attend, pictures with Chewbacca, IVR demonstrations, flying pigs, networking events – which included an MSG sponsored drink of an Arnold Palmer and Ski Ball.  An awesome evening filled with live music from a band comprised of market research musicians who played well into the night.

The consensus from the attendees we spoke with was that this was another great event and they were looking forward to attending next year.  We could not agree more.  Keep up the good work QUIRK’S!

Tim and Paul
Tim and Paul
MSG Booth Event
MSG Booth Event





AAPOR ‘s Task Force on Address Based Sampling

In January of 2016, AAPOR ‘s Task Force on Address Based Sampling published it’s finding for the AAPOR Standard’s Committee.  MSG’s Trent Buskirk and David Malarek played a pivotal role in the formation of the ABS Standards.  Below is the Abstract for the report.  The full report can be found here:

Arguably, address lists updated via the United States Postal Service (USPS) Computerized Delivery Sequence (CDS) file are the best possible frames for today’s household surveys in the United States. National coverage estimates vary, but are very high overall and nearly 100% in many areas, and coverage continues to improve. In addition, many address lists are regularly updated with changes from the USPS CDS file, reducing the need for expensive field work by survey organizations. Historically, field-generated frames were the only option for in-person surveys, but the high cost was prohibitive for many important national surveys, not to mention other valuable research surveys at the state, region, or community level. For many years, telephone surveys have been the low-cost alternative to in-person surveys with field-generated frames. However, the nature of telephony has shifted dramatically toward cellular technology (Blumberg and Luke 2014; Keeter et al. 2007). With more households switching from landline to mobile telephones, the coverage of landline-based random digit dialing (RDD) frames has dwindled (Blumberg and Luke 2014). Furthermore, because of legislation regarding how survey researchers may dial cell phones, and because of generally lower response rates for cell phone numbers, the cost of telephone surveys that seek coverage of cell-only households is increasing (AAPOR Cell Phone Task Force 2010). Address-based sampling (ABS) offers attractive solutions to these coverage and cost problems in the United States (Link et al. 2008). The accessibility of address frames has reduced the cost of in-person surveys and brought about a resurgence of relatively inexpensive mail surveys. ABS is often used in multimode studies, where different modes may be used for contact versus response in data collection or to follow up with nonrespondents (Alexander and Wetrogan 2000; de Leeuw 2005). Alternatively, advance mailings can be used to direct selected households to web surveys, with the hope that doing so may dramatically reduce costs. Furthermore, the ability to append geocodes, phone numbers, demographics, and other data to the address frame, although imperfect, can provide deep stratification and aid in designing more cost-efficient studies. Society is changing through the way people communicate. Letters and telephone calls are largely being replaced by texts, tweets, e-mails, and other electronic communications, although mail is still used for some formal and official communications. Surveys that push selected individuals to respond to surveys electronically (e.g., via the web) take advantage of today’s 1-2 prevalent modes of communication. Without general frames of electronic addresses, mail addresses provide excellent coverage of households. At the same time, initial contact by mail ensures that virtually every selected household can be reached, regardless of electronic capabilities. Creative use of ABS provides many options for reaching busy households and gaining cooperation. The purpose of this report is to describe the nature of ABS and its uses for conducting surveys. Multiple specific goals of the report are presented in Section 1.3. The report discusses in detail technical aspects of constructing ABS frames and samples, and the technical aspects reveal both its strengths and limitations. These aspects are important for effective use of ABS in survey design and implementation, as described in the report.