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Avoid FAQs

This post was originally published on DigitalGov.

If you write clear web content that is easy to navigate and answers your readers questions, you will not need to create a FAQ. FAQs often cause your readers more frustration.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) can be overwhelming and leave your customers searching through a sea of content. Before creating a FAQ, think about what you are trying to say, what you want people to do with that information, and the most effective way to convey that information. Often your best solution is a clear, well-organized main content page explaining a process.

How to write better FAQs

  • Supplement your main content with FAQs, but don’t try to replace the main content. Do not use FAQs to explain an entire process; a landing page should explain the basics.

  • Use real customer feedback. Do not assume what kinds of questions people will have. Monitor customer calls and emails to create helpful FAQs.

  • Use language that non-experts will understand. Use plain language when drafting FAQs. Do not burden your reader with insider jargon or undefined acronyms.

  • Provide unique content with your FAQs. When a FAQ has the same content as other Web pages, it usually means that the FAQ content is redundant and can easily become outdated, especially when content to the website is updated but the FAQs are not.

  • Limit the volume of content. When there are too many questions, searching through them can overwhelm the reader. They may never find an answer to their question.

Designing and editing FAQs

If your agency is using FAQs, the order, length, and content is critical in providing a good user experience. When editing, Catania uses the following process:

  1. Read through all of the FAQs first. Then, go through and group them by topic/subject.

  2. Develop headings for each section and organize the content in a way that would make sense to the reader.

  3. Read through each section and edit the content.

    • Focus on steps in a process. Think about what the reader is trying to accomplish.
    • Eliminate redundancies. This often helps with organization.

For a good agency example, see the Transportation Security Administration’s Frequently Asked Questions about travel. This page:

  • Highlights real questions from flyers
  • Uses clear headings to chunk the FAQ into sections and accordion files to keep the page short
  • Has short, conversational questions

Turning FAQs into web content

Whether you are trying to eliminate your FAQ section or make certain pieces of information more visible, you may find yourself turning FAQs into web content. Consider the following:

  • How many questions are in the FAQ?
  • Who will be looking at this content?
  • Is the current format helpful to the reader?
  • Is this information already available on the web in another format?
  • Is the current format easy for readers to navigate and understand?

At USCIS, the Form Filing Tips page began as a lengthy FAQ. Kathryn Catania’s team turned it into web content by adding jump links and headings for people to find their answer.