Obtaining feedback from subject matter experts (SMEs) is crucial for ensuring the accuracy and relevance of technical content. However, getting SMEs to review your work can often feel like trying to herd cats. From setting clear expectations to finding the right incentives, let us explore some strategies for getting SMEs to review your content promptly and efficiently.
So, whether you are a technical writer, developer, or just trying to get feedback on your latest project, this post has something for you. So, grab your can (or mug) and get ready to take your SME review game to the next level.
Table of contents
Do your homework
Before you jump the guns on SMEs, it’s essential to take a few steps to prepare:
- Understand if a team or an individual will handle the review process and consider that when setting expectations.
- Plan the feedback process, including timelines, communication methods, and any resources that they will need.
Person or team?
If a team handles the review, it’s essential to understand the team dynamics, including how team members communicate and work together. For example, if team members are spread out geographically, read through Slack messages in the group to understand who is available at what time of the day, and consider when you will post your review request. You may want to target someone more vocal on Slack.
TIP: While asking for a review request from a group, tag a few individuals you think will probably reply.
Hey team, who's up for giving me some feedback on XYZ? @A, @B, and @B, I need your expert opinions as you are always on top of things. Can you check it out and let me know your thoughts? Please get back to me by next week. I appreciate any help you can provide.
Identify and mimic their communication style
Research and understand the SME’s communication style. You can start by looking at their previous communication, such as emails or messages, and observe their tone and language. Maybe look at their social media profiles to understand their communication style. Then, you can mimic that tone of voice when asking for feedback by identifying their preferred communication tone, formal or informal, if they respond well to humor, etc.
It increases the chances of getting a positive response, making them feel more comfortable and better understood. Furthermore, it will also help to establish trust and build a good relationship with the SME, making them more willing to respond to you in the future.
Using neutral, polite, and specific language and highlighting their feedback’s value can help make the feedback process more efficient and effective.
When crafting your request, avoiding hostile or confrontational language is essential. Words such as “need,” “must,” or “should” can come across as demanding or critical, which can make the SME less likely to provide feedback. Instead, use language that is more neutral and polite, such as “request,” “invite,” or “ask.”
Additionally, using positive and encouraging language can help to motivate the SME to provide feedback. For example, words such as “help,” “contribute,” or “improve” can make the SME feel like their input is valued and essential.
Previos example in a formal tone.
Hello team; I request your assistance in reviewing XYZ. Your expertise would be invaluable in ensuring the accuracy of XYZ. @A, @B, and @C, Your expertise would be of great value to check and help me improve this document. Please try to provide your feedback by the end of next week. Thank you in advance for your time and effort.
Set clear expectations
By clearly communicating what you need from SMEs and when you need it, you can help ensure that the feedback process goes smoothly.
Setting clear expectations helps SMEs understand how you will use their feedback and how it will contribute to the success of the technical content. It helps in motivating them to provide feedback in a timely and efficient manner. Furthermore, it also allows SMEs to understand how much time they need to allocate for the review process.
When SMEs feel like their time and expertise are valued and respected, they are more likely to be willing to provide feedback.
Great, but what if I don’t get a reply?
Welcome to real life; no matter how thoughtful you craft the perfect request to the ideal SMEs, you might hit a brick wall, and no one looks at your request. In such cases, the art of following up comes in handy.
Send a friendly reminder to the SMEs who have not yet responded to your review request. Remind them of the deadline and the importance of their feedback. While doing so, remember the previous point about their communication style, and using a friendly and polite tone.
Supercharge your follow-up request
Reitrate about your urgency using the word “Because”. Using “because” in a sentence makes it more likely for someone to respond because it helps to establish a sense of reason and logic. See what I did there
The word “because” implies that there is a cause-and-effect relationship. There is a reason for the request and why it is urgent. It makes the proposition more compelling and accessible for the person to understand and respond to.
Show appreciation and offer help
Show appreciation for the SME’s time and expertise, and thank them in advance for their feedback. Express gratitude using the words such as “thank you,” “appreciate,” or “grateful”. Personalize your request by mentioning the SME’s name.
Additionally, offer to assist them. For example, you can offer to schedule a call or a meeting at a time that is convenient for them. Ask them if they are not someone who can review your request. Can they suggest another person or team?
Nothing is working, what’s the last resport?
Hopefully, you won’t be in a situation where you don’t hear back from anyone on your team. However, if all other efforts to follow up on a review request have failed and you’re unable to get a response, your last resort may be to consider other options.
Be annoyingly persistent
It means sending messages to the SME at different times of the day using various mediums such as email, Slack, or other messaging platforms they use. This can effectively get their attention and remind them of your request. However, it’s essential to be respectful of the SME’s time and not overdo it, as it may have the opposite effect and cause them to ignore your requests altogether. Therefore, a polite and friendly reminder every alternate day should be ok.
It may be necessary to consider reaching out to your manager for help if all other attempts to get feedback from SMEs have been unsuccessful. First, explain the situation to your manager and request their assistance in getting reviews from SMEs. It’s important to note that you do this after all other efforts have been exhausted. Your manager can help by escalating the issue, providing additional resources, or even reaching out to the SMEs on your behalf.