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September 26, 2007

Tips On Writing a Good FAQ

Many companies’ help lines are usually crowded with customers trying to find an answer for their questions. Some of these questions are legitimate; others seem to be made just to annoy the help staff. FAQs are supposed to prevent such situations by offering potential help line “customers” the chance to find the information they are looking for on their own, without necessarily picking up the phone or sending e-mail.

What Are FAQs?

FAQ is the abbreviation for Frequently Asked Questions. FAQs are organized “collections” of valuable information that usually comes from questions (and their corresponding answers) for the most common issues raised by users, on various topics. Companies make up such information compilations in order to fulfill their customers’ need for answers.

They are also a means to ease the burden of the customer support group by providing answers in written form to the most commonly asked questions.

FAQs can be available online or offline, burnt on CDs or DVDs. The second choice is more viable for people who don’t have access to the Internet, though this is a highly unlikely situation.

Writing an FAQ

Why should you write an FAQ?

The most common advice when it comes to writing FAQ documentation is that, if you have some experience in a particular field, if you have ever come across issues that you finally managed to solve, it’s good to let other people know it too. FAQs are basically about sharing information in a non-selfish manner.

When you submit your FAQs to the appropriate newsgroups, you stand a good chance of getting good feedback on your work, and thus your efforts will be rewarded.

An FAQ will almost automatically make you an “expert” (more or less) in your field. People will contact you and will help you maintain your FAQ up-to-date either by asking yourself more questions (in this case you’ll have to do some research and update your work), or simply by getting hold of more relevant information, based on their own experience that can be added to your FAQ.

What should you write about?

The possibilities are endless. Practically, any subject will do. There will always be questions, let’s say, regarding the compatibility between a particular piece of hardware and some software, or about configuration errors, etc. If you figure out which could be the most common problems and you have the answers for them, just go ahead and write.

Special considerations

It’s a good idea to include a disclaimer in your FAQ. You should mention there things like the fact that, that as far as you know, the information provided in the FAQ is accurate (or was accurate at the time you posted the respective FAQ on the Web or in a newsgroup), but that you cannot be held liable for any inconvenience caused by following those instructions or using that information.

You can also copyright the information in the FAQ that you submit for public use. Specify the terms under which the information can or can’t be used without your specific consent, under penalty of law. It can give you the legal basis just in case.. Yet, experts say that this usually does not work since there are numerous companies that gather loads of FAQs from directories on the Web, burn them on CDs or DVDs, and then sell them.

A Few Tips for Writing FAQs

When you set out to write an FAQ, it is good to follow a few guidelines. Among these, we consider that it’s worth mentioning:

  • Put yourself in your audience’s shoes; figure out what questions might be asked and provide the answers that you’d like to hear/read
  • Mind your grammar and spelling; always remember to review what you write, or have somebody else do it for you
  • Be concise enough to offer the necessary information in the least amount of words and time, but don’t be as concise as to leave the reader under the impression that they have gained nothing by reading what you have written. Check also an article about writing good software documentation
  • Remember to use bullets when you have lists

Author:  Adriana Iordan, Web Marketing Manager at Avangate B.V. Avangate is a complete ecommerce provider for shareware sales incorporating an easy to use and secure online payment system plus additional software marketing servicesand sales tools.