Sunday, January 08, 2006

Tips for Writing Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

The goal, when you create a web site, is to add content which is relevant to your audience, and make it easy to find and navigate. One standard approach to sites is to have a FAQ or Frequently Asked Questions page available for the visitor. To create a good FAQ, you have to identify the most common questions your audience would have about your business, product or service and answer them as concisely as possible. Let's look at FAQs and the ways that they can be written.

The History of FAQ
As far back as the earliest online communities, there has been one person (or more) in charge and a large group of members, some newer than others. The idea of writing a FAQ with questions the leaders didn't want to have to answer a billion times, started and then spread to the web.

FAQ Style
FAQs are written under the premise that a "real person" asked the question and the site owner is answering it online. So, the best approach is to write in a relaxed, conversational voice. Depending on the nature of your business, it might make sense to write as if a conversation is actually taking place, like this:

Q. So, where are you actually located?
A. We're located in Albany NY but work virtually with companies around the world.
Q. How do you do that?
A. ... and so on

What should put on a FAQ?
The easiest way approach this is to brainstorm actual questions people have asked you a lot. If you have an inquiry form on your site, you may have already started to see repeat questions there. If this isn't the case, brainstorm what you think are the core bits of information people might ask you, using "who, what, why, where, how" questions. You could also set up short interviews of some of your customers, and ask them what questions you could answer. Make it easy for people to make inquiries by having your email, phone and possibly an inquiry form on the site - and keep a file of what you are often asked.

If you're still stuck, you might consider looking at your competitor's web sites or sites from others in your industry. See what kinds of things they cover - and then write your own answers! This isn't the best way to do it, though, if they aren't aware of the best ways to write a FAQ then you could just be copying their mistakes!

Keep answers short
FAQ's are not a place for long winded explanations. Consider this the place for brief, "in a nutshell" responses to typical questions. Often, people click the FAQ link because they're having trouble finding answers and they are feeling a little frustrated. Get to the point quickly. You might also add a link at the end of each answer for more information, pointed to another page in your site.

Be organized
It's important that FAQs be easily navigable. One good way to do this is to list the questions, and then link each to its relevant answer, with a "FAQ Index" link in between each answer, back to the index. However you do, they should be able to scan the questions, leap to an answer and return to the questions.

Provide Human Contact
Either at the end of your FAQ list or sprinkled throughout, give the reader a way to contact you if their question isn't answered. Ideally, you'll provide a phone number but if this isn't possible, you should set up an email or form with the subject line that indicates urgency like "Subject: Urgent - " This way, if they send you an email, you can filter it into a folder for quick response, and contact them quickly. It's a way to make sure prospects don't leave your site frustrated, never to return, if you haven't answered all their quesitons!

It's rare to see a web site that doesn't have a FAQ, but without understanding the purpose and best ways to utilize this bit of content, many are just another web page. Using these tips, you can make sure that your FAQ actually answers the common questions your audience will have.


Eileen Parzek is an award winning graphic designer and writer providing digital and print graphic design and web design services. Always found at the intersection of information, creativity and technology, her business, Business Design Studio ( helps small businesses make a big impression, increase their reach and grow.

May be republished with full bio and credit link to