New Technical Writer: Avoiding The Interview-writing Disconnect

Lost or garbled info is a terrible waste. Particularly if it’s the details you collected from an interview and must now compose into your User File. Here’s how to avoid that waste.


You had an interview with a Subject Specialist (SME, somebody who has the info that you require) for your item. He/she told you all that you needed to understand. Nevertheless, by the time you got to write the material into the User Document, you have actually forgotten much of what was talked about. Your notes only help a bit. This loss or garbling the details from the SME that you need for your writing is the “Interview-Writing Disconnect.”

The solution is divided into 3 parts: Preparation Before the Interview, Actions Throughout, and Following the Interview

TIP: If possible, schedule the interview as near the time that you are going to write that part of the User Document. The longer you wait in between the interview and the writing, the harder it will be to recall the content.
Before the Interview.

  1. Your assisting principle is to Be Prepared. You need to have read what you can about the product, its environment, who will use it, and what they (normally) wish to finish with the product.
    Called much as you can before the interview. The more you learn about the item, the better off you will be in the interview.
  2. Define the objectives of the interview. Share this info with the SME. Do this in an e-mail before the interview.
  3. Ask the SME if you can (audio; video is too obtrusive) record the interview. Get a recorder (ideally a digital recorder) and ensure it is set up to operate appropriately during the interview.
  4. Gather any other materials you will require for the interview.
  5. Establish your recorder, and so on rapidly when the meeting starts.
  6. (You may wish to practice taking legible notes … I sure requirement to).


Leave your ego at the door. (This is actually tough.) Do not make signs that indicate that you comprehend something that you do not. Ask questions, get the description that you need. Here is something to inform the SME:.

” If I ask what sounds like a stupid question, remember that I am acting based on the knowledge that our User has.”.


Tape the interview (if permitted).

Start with some introduction concerns, such as:.

  • What is this portion of the item (subject) called?
  • How does this subject fit in to the item?
  • What is this (portion of the product) used for?
  • When would someone use this (unless it is “obvious”)?
  • What needs to be established prior to the User can use this part of the product?
  • Any other conditions about when this would be used, or when it would be avoided?

After you have the background information, then move on to the real operation of the part of the product. Ask any questions that you have actually prepared and any others that show up in the interview.

Keep in mind, if you do not comprehend something, ask.

Ask some summary questions. Evaluation the actions that you took, saying them aloud in your own words (particularly if you are taping the session). Have the SME correct any errors that you make.

Ask if there is any related info to this subject. Are there any suggestions or traps utilizing this part of the product?


If the SME points to a part of the item (such as a window in a piece of software, or the control panel of a barbecue) then say aloud what the SME is pointing to. State something like “we are taking a look at the main address book window” or “we are taking a look at the main burner control.” This will allow you to connect what is occurring in the interview with the audio tape.

If the SME carries out an operation, say what it is. “You simply got in the new person’s name, and the ‘New Card’ window appeared.” Or “You simply turned the burner control to the ‘Light’ position, and now the igniter is clicking, and there’s the flame.”.

Keep in mind as well as you can. But do not let any of your activity obstruct of the interview. It’s not a great idea to keep stopping the SME while you overtake your note taking. You will have the audio recording to draw on.

The SME may provide handouts for the interview. If you are permitted to, bear in mind on the handouts. The goal is to link your audio recording and notes and handouts together. For example, if the SME provides a screen print for a software product, you ought to link your notes, audio recording and the handout together by reading the title of the handout aloud. Do it as unobtrusively as possible.


As quickly as possible after the interview, you must review your notes and handouts. If possible, this must be done within minutes of completion of the interview. Find a peaceful place (perhaps you have access to the interview space after the interview) and review your notes.

Evaluation your notes and add clarification to them. When you add the product to the notes do it with sufficient information so that somebody who was not at the meeting will have the ability to comprehend it. That individual is you in even a day or two!

As quickly as you can get to it, take the expanded notes and write them into a draft of that part of the User Document. That should be within a day or two of the interview, if possible. Every minute’s hold-up contributes to the disconnect between what you learned in the meeting and what you write.

Let your draft sit for a day approximately, then evaluation and revise it for clarity and efficiency. Consider sending out the examined and revised variation of the draft to the SME for remarks. (You only want comments on the material, not on grammar.).

Set up time for this writing, even if you are juggling numerous composing projects. The time you conserve in not having to remember the information at a later date will be a good investment.


You can avoid or minimize the effects of the Interview-Writing Disconnect by being prepared before the interview, asking questions and taking effective notes throughout the interview, and examining and writing the product as soon after the interview as possible.

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