Having technical reviews completed for technical documentation has become considerably difficult. Throughout my years as a technical writer and, being mainly based at various organizations and using different methods of reviewing technical documentation, the problem of having technical reviews performed by SMEs is just the same wherever it was.
Theoretically the best way to get your documents examined is always to distribute it to a list of suitable people for review. It is always a good idea to ask for the comments back by a specific date.
Using this method it is more than likely that you are sure to get nothing or next to nothing back, even if you have been chasing after them with email after email and phone call after phone call. So when you do get a response they are usually full of questions or question marks, or they have been editing the grammar and not even bothering with the technical content.
Another choice is always to call a meeting of all the interested parties. People love meetings and some can spend all day long every single day moving from one meeting to another because it adds the atmosphere of self importance. You will probably notice that the people who have not supplied any written feedback for the review demands are the first ones to accept the invitation to a meeting.
You have to realise that just because you have all the major players involved in the project actually sitting together around a table doesn’t mean that you are going to achieve instant results.
The majority of SMEs hardly ever prepare for a review meeting, you are lucky if they ever read the technical documentation, let alone be prepared for the meeting. They have a tendency to read through the document whilst in the meeting and throw out their comments as and when they have any. This cuts down their time reviewing the document to the amount time the meeting lasts instead of spending a lot longer and giving the technical documentation a thorough review. By doing this type of review the SME is not doing justice to the amount of work you will have put in to create the documentation.
Even if the SME does read through the documentation before the meeting you will find it very difficult to review a large document if the meeting is only scheduled for an hour. You tend to find that if the technical documentation is on the large size and will need several meetings to review then the SME’s enthusiasm will start to wane and they will start to miss meetings.
In my experience it is better to have a technical review of the documentation first and then set up a review meeting. Send the documentation to the SME first to carry out a paper review and get them to send back their comments. Plus also make them aware that a review meeting is being scheduled for the following week. When you receive the comments back from the SME compile them and send them out to with a meeting invitation to the relevant people.
By doing it this way you can conduct the meeting with the knowledge of knowing that a lot of the issues have already been resolved. It will only leave any new queries to be taken care of and any outstanding queries can be allocated to the relevant people as action points. Also the SME will be able to dedicate their time to ensuring that all their comments are auctioned on and when the technical documentation is updated it will be correct and ready for distribution.