The greater the number of SMEs, the more people that must review subsequent white paper drafts. The diverse number of opinions and the resulting number of edits can result in the white paper going in a hundred different directions, and it also extends the amount of time necessary to compile all the SME opinions, and send the reviewed draft back to the writer for final completion.
I have seen white paper projects take as much as six months to a year because of an excessive number of SMEs. (And don't forget, depending on the size of the company and importance of the topic, a V.P. or C-Level executive could insert themselves into the review process, further extending the completion timeline.
Having lots of SMEs can also be a good thing. It's great to collect lots of input from SMEs when you are gathering background information and solution-oriented perspectives. I have seen situations where as many as eight SMEs are contributing information on a conference call. The back-and-forth process of sharing opinions and challenging other SME responses during such a call can redirect the scope of the project and improve the quality of the white paper.
The issue that gets white paper writers into trouble isn't in the content gathering phase, but in the draft review phase of the project. Trouble begins when more than three SMEs are involved in reviewing the white paper drafts.
When this occurs, an external freelance writer can easily find themselves playing negotiator, bargaining and pleading with the SMEs on what should be the official corporate position in an effort to clarify conflicting opinions in the draft edits. This is an unfortunate position for any writer to find themselves in, and is beyond their role as the writer.
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