A FAQ (“Frequently Asked Questions” document) can be one of the best investments a project makes in terms of educational payoff. FAQs are highly tuned to the questions users and developers actually ask—as opposed to the questions you might have expected them to ask—and therefore, a well-maintained FAQ tends to give those who consult it exactly what they’re looking for. The FAQ is often the first place users look when they encounter a problem, often even in preference to the official manual, and it’s probably the document in your project most likely to be linked to from other sites.
Most sites have these and that’s great. Where most sites fall short though is they build their FAQ the wrong way and cut into its utility. Here are some tips on creating a good FAQ:
1. Keep it Short
Remember a document isn’t done when there is nothing left to add. It’s done when there is nothing left to take away. The shorter the FAQ is, the easier it is for your users to find what’s relevant to them.
When writing questions and answers the question should be a single sentence with no wordwrapping on a normal display and the answer should be a single paragraph.
2. Get Relevant Questions–By Asking
How do you make a relevant FAQ? You stock it full of questions people actually ask. To find these questions Feedback Army can help. I saw a customer visit Feedback Army and ask the following:
Please Help us Make a Useful FAQ Section:
1. Visit our site http://www.____________
2. Provide us with 2-4 questions you had and could not answer while browsing our site.
Normal FAQ development is an organic process. People ask questions, you notice a pattern, and you put them up. If you’ve got a new site Feedback Army can help you seed that process by sending the first impressions of many new eyes direct to you.
3. Make it Easy to Skim
FAQ pages consist of sections each with multiple questions. The Feedback Army FAQ has 3-5 questions per section. This makes it easier for a reader to skim the section headers before digging into the content.
Some FAQs let the user click on the questions to expand the answers. This is a helpful way to aid scanning while keeping the information nearby. The Glassdoor.com FAQ is a good example of this.
4. Label it Correctly
FAQ has existed in the internet lexicon for a long time. New users may not know what an FAQ is but many do. Because of this some sites have started labeling their FAQ as a Help link. Some users are drawn to it and others are confused by it. If you’re going to call the link Help, I recommend inserting a link labeled FAQ in the footer section of your website.
5. Put Your FAQ Where Users Expect It
In the last tip I mentioned putting a link to the FAQ in the footer of your site. The first place I look for an FAQ is the right or bottom of the navigation bar (just above or to the left of the Contact link). The second place is the footer. The third is the upper right corner of your site. If you’re putting it anywhere else you’re probably confusing users.
If there is a debate over this in your office, consider the use of Feedback Army. Ask the following.
Please visit our site and find our frequently asked questions page, then answer these questions:
1. Where is our FAQ page?
2. How long did it take you to find it?
3. What were you looking for when trying to find our FAQ page?
4. What would improve this process?
6. Use a Ratings System to Get Feedback on Questions and Answers
It’s helpful to attach a ratings system to each question and answer. I like how WordPress.com does this on their support page. They ask a question: “Was this helpful?” and provide a thumbs up or thumbs down link visitors can click. Clicking one of these is a frictionless way to express joy or pain from the question. Building a ratings system isn’t difficult. Over time you can use this information to pick which questions need to be revised. After all, confused users means lost sales.
That’s it. An FAQ isn’t too complicated. The trick is to make it easy to skim, keep it short, follow the right format, and stock it with questions people ask. If it’s findable on your site then you’ll have a great resource that is sure to keep your customers happy and coming back.