About Those Frequently Asked Questions by Moira Ashleigh

Posted on August 7, 2015 at 2:00 PM

Pink Poppy
Pink poppy in the wind, The Community Gardens, Woburn, MA

FAQs or frequently asked questions were initially created for email list serve venues. For that purpose they made sense since the list managers were constantly answering the same questions day after day ad naseum.

Because they worked fairly well for email lists, they were adopted for many other web uses. At the time this started I was doubtful and now I am convinced; FAQs are not very useful when you do not have a real world collection of questions from the actual users. In fact, as software on the Internet is more complex than an email list, the FAQs cannot serve the user adequately. The resulting FAQ is either too complex to find anything or not comprehensive enough to serve the purpose.

Unfortunately I have found that product people love them, because they can be used to sell the product. So instead of getting help with a problem the user gets sales speak, technical jargon and/or poorly written answers to questions someone thought up in a rush to hand it over to the designer or developer. This is not a good practice as it does not help the user and you still get emails and phone calls to client support. Mostly they hear "I can't find my question."

Frequently asked questions are a hammer, which is fine if you have a piece of wood and a nail. If you have a multi-dimensional object with hinges, hooks and braces, the hammer will just not serve.

So when you are planning a complex project, remember to plan ahead and have someone who will write a clear, easy to use, step by step user guide with screen shots. Your users will be so much more satisfied. And leave the FAQ to the task it serves well, the email list.

Documentation mantra: Help should be easy to use.

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