Subject Matter Expert Interview Template


  • Duration: An ideal length for the interview is thirty to sixty minutes. Try to avoid scheduling interviews longer than two hours, as attention and energy will rapidly deplete.

Questions to Ask

  • Big-Picture Questions
    • Who is the target audience for this?
    • When and why would the audience use this?
    • How will the audience see or interact with this feature?
  • Example Closed-Ended Questions
    • Is this feature going live in version X?
    • Should part A be screwed in before tightening part B?
    • Do you need to turn off the power before starting this procedure?
    • How many times is the Refresh button clicked in this process?
  • Example Open-Ended Questions
    • What tasks can be accomplished using this product?
    • Can you describe the major differences between versions 1.0 and 2.0?
    • What are the consequences of not turning off the power first?
    • Who is most likely to use this, and for what reasons?
    • How does this feature or process work in detail?
  • Confirmation Questions
    • Even if you think you know the answer, ask for confirmation to ensure accuracy.


  • Set the scene. Before the interview, introduce yourself and set the scene for how you might work together on the project. Confirm that they are able to help you with the topics identified. It’s important that they understand how much time and effort is required on their part, as well as any important deadlines.
  • Explain the review process. Explain the write-review-update cycle to them. Let them know that you’ll need to hold one or more information gathering sessions with them. You’ll use the information they provide to produce a first draft, which you will send to them for review. You’ll feed their comments back into a revised draft, which they can review again. You may need to repeat this cycle several times.
  • Send questions in advance. Draw up a short list of questions that you would like answered during the session. Send your questions several days in advance of the session, with a short note encouraging them to review the questions before you meet.
  • Review information. Review any material you have already gathered so you can go into the session armed with as much knowledge as possible. It saves time and helps develop rapport with the subject matter expert if you’re familiar with relevant concepts, features, and terminology.
1: Introduction and Scene-SettingSet the scene for how the session will play out. For a first session, this includes introductions and an overview of the session’s goals. Confirm that the proposed length of time—thirty minutes, one hour, or more—is still satisfactory.
2: Asking Questions and Exploring TopicsTake notes to record the subject matter expert’s answers to your initial questions. If it’s a face-to-face interview, consider having a colleague act as scribe, taking down the answers. You can also record the interview (ensure you ask for permission). Once you’re satisfied with the information you have, continue to explore related topics as needed. Be curious—if something doesn’t make sense or you think it warrants further explanation, follow up with questions.
3: Taking Screenshots and Recording StepsIf your subject matter expert is demonstrating something on-screen, take screenshots and note the sequence of steps. Ensure you have screen capture software ready and access to your subject matter expert’s computer screen. If you’re not recording the session, explain at the outset that you may need them to pause occasionally so your notetaking can keep up.
4: Wrap-Up and Next StepsOnce you’ve obtained enough information or if you run out of time (a common occurrence), thank the subject matter expert. Explain the next steps. Will you need a follow-up interview, or do you have enough information to finalize your draft? Have they promised to send you an important document? Do a quick recap, including any actions. If another session is necessary, tentatively schedule it to maintain momentum and facilitate any further preparation.
5: Follow Up with an EmailIf several days pass and the subject matter expert hasn’t followed up on their actions, send a concise email thanking them again and noting what the actions are. You don’t need to include the entire transcript of the interview in your email—it’s just for your use.
Typical Structure for a Subject Matter Interview
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