How Do I Choose the Best Subject Matter Expert?

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  • Written By: Lainie Petersen
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 22 October 2019
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When choosing a subject matter expert, you should first consider his or her professional achievements and credentials and establish whether he or she is actually an expert. You should then find out whether the subject matter expert has experience working in projects similar to those for which you need to hire a consultant. Finally, you should determine whether his or her services are affordable and whether he or she is capable of meeting deadlines and will be available for timely consultation on your project or projects.

Many companies that develop educational courses or publish training materials rely on third-party contractors for writing these materials, reviewing materials, or providing suggestions for new product ideas. These contractors are known as subject matter experts and are typically people with a high degree of experience, education, and authority in their field. As publishers may not have significant or specialized knowledge in the subjects covered by the courses or textbooks, they may rely heavily on the knowledge of a subject matter expert.

Carefully evaluate the resume or curriculum vitae supplied by a subject matter expert. His or her educational achievements should be consistent with those of other recognized authorities in a field or industry. For example, if a person in a particular profession is expected to hold a master's degree in order to practice and supervise others, the subject matter expert should likewise hold at least a master's degree. All educational credentials should also be verified for legitimacy.


The subject matter expert's professional experience should be reviewed and verified as well. Ideally, an expert has significant real-world experience in the fields for which he or she consults. Look for both length and breadth of experience. The subject matter expert should have a long work history in which he or she consistently advanced within his or her profession and took on new responsibilities. Talk to previous employers, colleagues, and clients about the consultant's work ethic, quality of work, and ability to complete projects on time.

Other considerations include achieving recognition and respect within his or her industry. Awards from an employer or, better yet, an industry association can be a good indicator of a candidate's competency. Find out whether he or she has teaching experience or has been asked to speak at events. Review his or her publication record. A history of publication in industry magazines or peer-reviewed journals is typically a strong indication of a person's competency and expertise.


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Post 3

@clintflint - I'd also make absolutely sure that you've really got an expert in the subject. There are plenty of people around willing to go all the way in a hoax and it has happened more than once. That's particularly true if the person is claiming something out of the ordinary.

Get second and third opinions if you can, especially if the book is intended as educational.

Post 2

@croydon - I'd say that applies for fiction writers because they will only need a few details (usually). But don't expect to be able to pick the brains of someone who is an expert in their field to write a book in their field, if you know nothing about it. If they are going to do that much work, they might as well write the book themselves, unless you're willing to pay them.

Post 1

If you are looking for a subject matter expert because you are writing a book, you probably won't have to pay them (depending on how much you need from them). If you are, say, writing a police procedural and want a few specifics from a real policeman then just email them and ask. People are usually very happy to take some time to answer questions about their work and their lives.

If it's a full-blown interview, then it might depend on the person. From what I hear, most scientists consider it to be part of the job to give short interviews about their work, as this increases their visibility and the chances of getting grants.

But if you want someone who is going to read your entire manuscript, you had either be willing to take them out to dinner or wait until they offer to do it, because that's quite a lot of time out of their day.

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