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How To Conduct A Subject Matter Expert Interview For Top Results [White Paper Copywriting]

Do you want to interview a subject matter expert so that you get the information you need to create a valuable, unique, and authoritative white paper that grabs the attention of your audience?

The knowledge gained from the interview of the subject matter 

expert is useful for creating white papers that generate leads, crafting copy for websites or email, drafting resources for sales teams, and more. 

This article will help you understand what a subject matter expert is and how they help you improve your content.

It will also help you learn how to interview internal and external experts. And how to use the knowledge in writing authoritative content.

Let's dive in.

The interview with a subject matter expert is a discussion with one of the best minds in a specific job, technology, product, or service within and outside your organization.

What Is A Subject Matter Expert? (SME)

The University of Waterloo defines a subject matter expert as a person with expertise and knowledge on a specific subject for a project.

The area of expertise could be business or technical.

A genuine SME understands their topic thoroughly and can speak off the top of their head without extensive research. 

A Subject Matter Expert is simply a fancy way of saying that a person is an expert in their field. Many people refer to them as SMEs.

The evidence that a person is qualified as a valued SME for the project includes the ability to: 

  • Understand and explain the area of expertise and the terms and jargon used in the subject area clearly to others.
  • Offer knowledgeable guidance on questions and problems in their area of expertise.
  • Be the “go-to” person within a department or function for answering questions and solving problems within her area of expertise.
  • Give recommendations for improving procedures.
  • Measure performance in their area of expertise.
  • Answer how and why things are done in the area of expertise.

Benefits Of Subject Matter Experts For Your White Paper And Other Content

Genuine SMEs validate and provide insights and context for your white paper and other content.

They also add authenticity and depth to your content. 

And that's because a true SME has the most in-depth knowledge of the content in their specific field.

However, a copywriting team uses the information provided by subject matter experts to expertly craft content that is beneficial and understandable to its users.

A copywriting agency has the knowledge needed to put together an authoritative white paper and other content and knows your target audience better than anyone else.

The quotes and facts from subject matter experts add to the impact and authority of a white paper. 

SMEs can also help with search engine optimization (SEO) by providing the keywords phrases that make it easy to rank high in web search result pages.

But one of the biggest benefits of using a subject matter expert is to improve your EAT score. EAT stands for Expertise, Authority, and Trust.

It measures a site’s expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness. 

Check out Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines for in-depth information.

At Anaconda Marketing, we conduct subject matter interviews as early as possible in the white paper writing process because of time and scheduling constraints.

We interview internal and external subject matter experts.

However, before you can interview subject experts, you will need to identify and schedule the discussion.

Identify The SMEs In Your Network

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Identifying the SMEs is one of the first steps in the white paper planning process. 

The internal SMEs are easy to identify because they are employees of the organization developing the authority document.

Some of them are company leaders or people whose jobs require specialized knowledge, like engineers or technical salespeople. 

On the other hand, external white paper SMEs are people who work for other organizations or themselves.

But how do find SMEs?

Here’s a list of ways you can find and reach out to subject matter experts that are right for your white paper and other content copywriting projects:

  • Social Media: Social media platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter can be a great way to find subject matter experts. Use keywords, such as “[topic] expert” and search filters to search for industry influencers, people who write, present, or post regularly about topics aligned with your business. Also, ask your followers or connections to recommend SMEs to you.
  • Blog Influencers: Cultivate a relationship with well-known or up-and-coming blog influencers on the topic you are writing your white paper or content on.
  • Industry Conferences And Events: Attend events that your prospective subject matter experts attend. While at the events, get a feel for their style and see if it aligns with your authoritative paper content. After the sessions, approach the speaker and explain your needs. And if they cannot be of assistance, ask them to recommend someone else who might be willing to help you out.
  • Join Associations: Associations exist for almost any industry and are full of subject matter experts. To see an extensive list, check out the Directory of Associations. After you’ve joined your niche association, search for other members, particularly consultants. Engage with consultants for your white paper or other marketing content interview.
  • Check Out Trade Journals: Like associations,  Web Wire has a list by an industry that includes banking, technology, utilities, and more. Check out the bylines for the articles. As you look through the articles, pay attention to the experts quoted. Some SMEs are not writers but are willing to be interviewed for a white paper or appear in a video.

Identify Your Purpose For The White Paper Interview

Identify your overall purpose to see if your goals align with the insight of your SME before the interview.

That means figuring out what information you need from an SME before you initiate contact.

Do you want to learn new things, or do you want your SME to explain a complex process more simply?

The areas you focus on during the interview will determine the information you get.

For that reason, you need to define the specific topics that you want to talk about. 

And then mention those topics when you reach out to the SME so that he would be prepared for what you expect from the interview. 

Before starting your interview, your SME knows if he has overlooked any valuable talking points or if he needs more time to cover complex topics.

Reach Out And Request An Interview From An SME

After you have decided on the SME and the topic, reach out to the SME for an interview. 

You could send social media messages or emails depending on the contact information you have. 

Your email message may look like the one below.

subject matter expert letter of inquiry


Schedule Your Interview

After you have agreed to the interview with your source, schedule a day and time for your chat. 

Tools like HubSpot MeetingsCalendlyCalendarHero, or Doodle (best for quick mobile group meeting scheduling) make the process of scheduling group meetings easy for you and the SME.

You can also use Google Meet to schedule and conduct a video meeting.

Spend Time On Your Prep Work

Spend time to read up on the expertise of the SME and learn some of the common jargon professionals in their space use. 

Learning everything about the topic is good etiquette and a good interviewing strategy.

Identify everything you don't know about the topic, and where your SME can fill the gaps. 

Request access to documentation and resources from your SME to get yourself up to speed before the chat.

Spending your time wisely on your prep work will help you work seamlessly and become more efficient and intentional with the interview questions.

Get Your SME Interview Questions Ready

Craft your questions and arrange them to have a seamless flow of conversation.

Don't write down all your questions in one sitting.
This helps you not to miss any valuable information.

Take time to review your questions after you've taken a break from them. 

That will give you a fresh set of eyes to help you find a topic you forgot to cover.

If in doubt about the questions to ask, check out the list of questions developed by Elearning to help with this SME conversation.

Give Your SME The Interview Questions

Give your SME the list of the questions in advance to have a chance to take a look at them before showtime.

This helps the SME feel more comfortable and allows for sufficient time to prepare the answers. 

In addition, it gives you time for clarification before the interview, rather than during the conversation.

Conduct The Interview

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After all your hard work, the time is just around the corner to conduct the interview.

After your SME agrees to the interview, send a confirmation message.

That communication explains how long to expect the interview to take and the topics you plan to cover. 

If you have not done so, this might be a good time to send your questions to the expert so he can be ready for the chat.

When it's showtime, these measures can help you keep your interview seamless and insightful:

Organize Yourself Before The Interview

Set aside some time on your calendar to get your responsibilities organized. 

Go over your topic, and read through your questions.

Take care of all your duties so that you are distraction-free

during the interview. 

That may include turning your phone to silent, if not off.

If you’re using a conference line for the interview, this extra time will allow you to get the call set up and make sure all speakers and microphones are working.

Record The Interview 

Recording your SME interview may be a good option.

Some topics may be complex, and recording can ensure that your quotes and information are correct.

It also helps you avoid needing more clarification after the interview.

However, recording a call or conversation is illegal in some countries and some states in the US. Check this Wikipedia entry to see which areas are affected. 

If it is not illegal to record an interview in your affected areas, you can use many different tools to record conference lines and regular phone calls. 

With the COVID in mind, you can record interviews remotely and achieve a good sound quality with these tools:

Although you won’t need broadcast-quality audio, it needs to be clear for you or a transcriptionist to hear clearly.

Here are a few of the best virtual interview software:

  1. VidCruiter - Best for multi-tiered video interviewing
  2. Willo - Best for interviewing global SMEs
  3. myInterview - Best free video interviewing platform
  4. Zoom Meetings - Best for usability
  5. Skype - Best for Microsoft users

Remote Conference Call Recording

Here are a few conference call recording tools you can use for your white paper SME interview:

How To Start The Interview

Don't dive straight into the questions right away. Ease slowly into the conversation with small talk topics.

For instance, start by talking about the expert’s practice and connection to the subject matter.

Help your SME to relax by speaking in a conversational tone.

Since you will be recording the conversation, the SME shouldn’t worry about speaking in perfect sentences. 

When In Doubt Ask The SME For Clarification

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It is easy to get lost in the weeds of complex technical jargon.

If the discussion becomes too overwhelming for you, pause and ask the expert to clarify what he is talking about. 

At times, you may have to read back your notes to make sure you understood what the SME said.

It will benefit you to get accurate information while you're with the expert.

Ultimately, this ensures accuracy and helps avoid project delays.

Keep The Discussion On Track

Make the most of your interview because the SME’s time is valuable.

One way of doing this is to keep the discussion on track when the expert goes off-topic.

Politely interrupt and get the conversation back on track. 

For instance, you could say, “Dr. Jones, the point you are making is so interesting. 

It would have been nice to include all that lovely information in my white paper, but let's get back to our topic, which is ...

Also, when the expert says an insightful point or seems to have more to share, ask follow-up questions.

This helps you to dive deeper for more valuable information. Then ask if he has an example.

Find The Passion Of The Expert

Digging into the passion for the subject would prompt an unresponsive SME to give you a memorable quote or engage more on the topic.

Try asking questions like:

  • Why are you excited about this topic?
  • Why did you choose a career in this particular field?
  • What is your philosophy or approach to generating leads?

Allocate Time For An Open-Ended Question

Open-ended questions require more than one-word answers or choosing among a few options.

The answers often come as a list or a few sentences or paragraphs.

Open-ended questions can also come in the form of a speech or essay.

Include an open-ended question at the end of the interview. 

You can ask something along the lines of, "What suggestions can you share to help me generate leads?

“Is there anything else you’d like to chat about?” 

This type of question allows the SME to elaborate on a response or bring up a topic you missed in the interview. 

With open-ended questions, you’ll often find some great nuggets of information in these answers.

Clarify The Review Process

Before the interview ends, make sure you agree with the expert on the process for reviewing content.

Find out the best email to use when sending a draft. 

Importantly, let the SME know who will be sending the draft.

The expert needs to know whether you, your project manager, or someone else from the marketing team will be communicating with him. 

Some SMEs appreciate knowing in advance the review process.

And knowing ahead of time helps to make sure the email doesn't get lost in the inbox.

What To Do After The Interview

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Here are the necessary things you should take care of after the interview:

Review Your Notes Immediately After The Interview

After the interview, transcribe it. It is an incredibly time-consuming activity.

Fortunately, some tools help you get near-perfect transcripts at a low cost.

Rev is perhaps the best-known transcription company. 

The company uses AI and humans, to achieve at least 99% accuracy. 

Other tools are Descript and Sonix.

After the transcription, take the time to review your notes as soon as possible. 

Make sure you have a clear understanding of the answers the SME provided.

As you review your interview, highlight a few key quotes or points that you intend to include in your white paper.  

Send your follow-up questions with a thank you note

Immediately after your interview, send a thank you letter or note to the SME for setting aside time to speak with you. 

Also, send more questions if you missed valuable information or ran out of time during your interview.

Sending the questions sooner rather than later can help you avoid delays down the road.

Other Follow Up Tips

Though you want to get as much input information as possible during the official SME interviews, you will likely need more information once you start copywriting your white paper.

Reconnecting with the expert during the writing process ensures that you’re copywriting is accurate.
It is also an excellent opportunity to get input on new questions that arise.  

When the interview ends, be sure to communicate to the SME that you will likely reconnect to fill in the gaps when you start writing.

Since your SME is aware of the arrangement, it should not be a problem checking in with him once you start writing and editing your white paper.

This arrangement helps you get much-needed clarification on topics or concepts discussed in the interview.

Keep in mind that SME interviews are just one step in the writing process.

Craft More Authoritative Content Using Your Interview Information

Now that you possess a unique and authoritative tool for your marketing campaigns, it's time to use it to produce a compelling white paper or any other type of content that aligns with your overall goals.

Here are some strategies for crafting high-quality content that generates leads and positions you as a thought leader in your niche: 

How To Cite Sources In Your White Paper

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As a professional white paper copywriter, you already know that it is unethical and a copyright infringement to pass information from other sources off as if it belongs to you. 

However, may not know how seasoned writers show their readers where the information came from. Let’s look at how they cite their sources: 

Include links in your text 

Hyperlinking your sources from other websites back to the original content is simply the easiest way to validate the authority of your information.

It also helps your readers learn more from the source.


Use direct quotes

It simply means quoting the expert directly, without paraphrasing. 

You achieve that by putting quotation marks around the copied text and adding the name of the expert at the end. 

Interview More Than One Expert To Get More Opinions

If more experts know you, interview as many as you can for your project.

This strategy can work well for controversial topics that need different viewpoints and opinions.

It also works well for content that covers many subject areas. Additionally, having multiple opinions on any subject provides a comprehensive perspective. 

Share The Final Result With The SME

After you have published your white paper, send the SME a link or copy of the report.

You will be surprised that many experts will be just as excited as you are to see the final results. If you repurpose the interview for a blog post, they may also share it with their network. 

Final Thoughts

It may seem intimidating to interview a subject matter expert (SME).

When you follow through by preparing well for the interview, you find out that many of them are happy to share their work.

It is a symbiotic relationship that helps both of you to be seen as thought leaders in your respective niches.

Are you ready to have a persuasive white paper written?

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