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Begging the Question: What is a FAQ?

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What is your question?

Daniel H. Pink, author

So, what is a FAQ?

A FAQ is a grouping of the most commonly asked questions and answers for a particular topic.

You have to admit, a term like FAQ begs the question: what is a FAQ? A FAQ is a grouping of the most commonly (aka “frequently”) asked questions and answers for a particular topic. FAQ stands for Frequently Asked Question(s). FAQs are used in articles, websites, emails, documentation, manuals, and forums, among other places. Most often, a FAQ is a list that uses a question and answer-style format but FAQs come in all kinds of shapes and sizes.

So, what do the letters “FAQ” actually stand for? FAQ is an acronym* for Frequently Asked Question (singular) or Frequently Asked Questions (plural).

Starting with the question, “What is a FAQ?” and answering it in one clear, shining sentence is a perfect example of a FAQ.

How do you pronounce “FAQ”?

FAQ is pronounced either as three separate letters (“eff-aye-kew”) OR as one word all together (“fak”).

Is it really an acronym?

To be exact, pronouncing FAQ like “eff-aye-kew” is an initialism. Saying it like “fak” is an acronym. Both are formed from the initial letters of a phrase or longer word, but an initialism spells out the letters whereas an acronym creates a new word.

Does FAQ need an S?

No, the term “FAQ” does not need an S at the end because it represents ONE OR MORE Frequently Asked Questions: it is singular or plural. The term “FAQs” ALWAYS represents TWO OR MORE Frequently Asked Questions. FAQs is always plural.

Whether you use FAQ or FAQs to refer to multiple questions is really up to you, but you want to pay attention not only to how it READS, but how it SOUNDS (out loud). You wouldn’t write “Just the FAQ, Ma’am” even though it is technically correct, because it just sounds, well–wrong.

SIDEBAR: “Just the Facts, Ma’am” meme originated with the character Sergeant Joe Friday on the TV show Dragnet.

Describing ONE Frequently Asked QuestionUse FAQ

EXAMPLE: The Sky Blue FAQ: Why is the Sky Blue?
Describing TWO OR MORE Frequently Asked QuestionsUse FAQ or FAQs, depending on personal preference and/or context (how it sounds)

EXAMPLES: Cowgirl Cafe FAQ OR Cowgirl Cafe FAQs, FAQs About Time Travel, Freaky Facts FAQ
Is it FAQ or FAQs?

In real, everyday WRITTEN usage (like for the Web), we have found that FAQ is used most often. When we use FAQs, we like write it with the small “s” for visual clarity, easy readability, and ‘cuz it looks nicer. ALL CAPS ARE HARD TO READ.

FAQ does not need an “S” because it can refer to ONE or MORE Frequently Asked Questions. We have found that FAQ is used more often than FAQs.

Is there an apostrophe in FAQs?

BTW, the plural form FAQs is not possessive or a contraction, so DO NOT use an apostrophe.

CafeFAQ | What is a FAQ? FAQs or FAQ's
Yeah… it’s tempting, but DON’T do it

Is it “a FAQ” or “an FAQ”?

When WRITING about one FAQ: Either indefinite article works: “a FAQ” or “an FAQ” are both acceptable in text. We use “a” to keep it simple and save valuable online space (hey, those letters can add up!). To keep track of your company’s preferred usage of this term, you may want to create a company Lexicon or add it to your existing one.

When SPEAKING about one FAQ: it depends on how you are saying it: “eff-aye-kew” starts with a vowel sound and “fak” does not. So, it is pronounced like “an eff-aye-kew” OR “a fak.”

It is fine to use either “a” OR “an” when WRITING about one FAQ. When SPEAKING about one FAQ, it depends.

What is a FAQ page?

FAQs can be either stand-alone pages or sections of a website or app with subpages for each question or topic. It is usually written, but can also be a video on YouTube or TikTok, or an audio script. Embedded links to written FAQ questions and answers are most often found in footers, headers or navigation bars. People have questions, you have answers! Which begs the question if you don’t have a FAQ: Why are you hiding such a great SEO tool?

CafeFAQ | what is a FAQ page list icon
FAQ page (list form)

How many questions in a FAQ?

That depends on the complexity of the topics being asked about. (One is probably not enough! Why go to the trouble to seek out a one-question band?) That said, it is also about perception. IF there are a LOT of questions, it appears that there are a LOT of problems. NOT GOOD! And yet, if you need to answer a BUNCH of questions in one place (centralize), or do a BUNCH of other things, a FAQ is your answer.

EXAMPLE: Just for reference, Wikipedia’s FAQ INDEX Page has 22 FAQs. The Main FAQ about using and contributing consists of 11 questions and answers. The Overview, which is about the Wikipedia Project itself, has 12 questions and answers. Some of the other FAQs have more (like, 27 for the Technical FAQ) or less (four for the Blocks FAQ).

A good rule to follow is: if it can (or should be) answered within your regular content, put it there. That not only reduces the amount of questions, it keeps them in context. One of the problems with FAQs is they can take things out of context and interrupt a user’s flow. SO DON’T DO THAT.

How long should FAQ answers be?

Again, that depends on the complexity of the questions being answered: anywhere from ONE WELL-WRITTEN PHRASE to 2-3 (OR MORE) PARAGRAPHS. For example, for retail or shopping sites, keep it short and to the point: the pithier the better. You don’t want to interrupt the shopping momentum, but you must also answer the question completely and thoroughly enough for the user to keep going. For complex scientific Q and As, you need to be comprehensive. ASK YOURSELF: Does this really answer the question? Can the user/reader move on successfully from here?

Quality counts more than quantity here. How you phrase your questions is crucial for comprehension.

A good general rule is to follow a simplified version of the tried-and-true journalistic standard: CLIMB DOWN FROM THE TOP OF THE PYRAMID. Always start with the most important information FIRST. Remember, people skim while reading. They usually start at the top and go down.

CafeFAQ | What is a FAQ Simplified pyramid
Inverted pyramid (simplified)

Why do you need a FAQ on YOUR website?

The simple answer is FAQS SOLVE REAL-WORLD USER PROBLEMS (or they should). The more nuanced answer involves an understanding of SEO and effective customer support. In modern web design, FAQs serve as the first line of defense for a user to find out the answer to more common questions and to fill in knowledge gaps on a self-serve basis.

What do FAQs do? When written and designed well, FAQs can:

  • REDUCE THE WORKLOAD for customer support, IT help, and answer top-level customer concerns on the spot
  • STEER YOUR CUSTOMERS in the right (or left) direction on your website to product pages or other pages
  • CENTRALIZE and focus your users’ questions and concerns
  • INTEGRATE with and supplement product/service pages or other content
  • REPRESENT your brand style and how nicely you treat customers
  • and also very importantly, REINFORCE GOOD SEO PRACTICES

Do you need a well-structured FAQ?

YES, YES, a thousand times YES. You have to dig deeper to get great SEO results: you must structure your FAQ data properly to up your chances to get Rich Results. (And you want those. They’re like free advertising on the web.)

CafeFAQ | What is a FAQ Structured Data FAQ schema
An unstructured tangled mess of data

Do you really NEED a FAQ?

The overwhelming answer is YES, with a few caveats: it has be phrased and written well. It has to be EFFECTIVE. FAQs are now standard fare, but they have to be thought-out and strategic, as well as maintained and tested thoroughly. You need a PLAN for answering your user’s questions. IF you have a question about Refunds, for example, you probably go to the Refunds policy page. There isn’t one? You check the FAQ page, looking for the word Refunds. The FAQ gives you a centralized place to get answers you can’t find elsewhere.

Are FAQs outdated?

There is some debate about whether all sites/apps need a FAQ, even though FAQ sections have become standard in most situations. Robert Mills, Founder of Fourth Wall Content asked some nay-saying experts this question. The answer was that a FAQ should not be stand-alone, but should be incorporated into the content IF the question is truly a frequently asked question. Fair enough! We’ve already agreed to this. But not all experts agreed–Iain Broome noted that because of the ubiquitous nature of FAQs, users will be looking for them. Do you really want to swim upstream here?

Add it now, but keep asking questions

We recommend adding a FAQ to your site and then testing to see how it is being used and which questions/terms get the most attention. A FAQ is like a living, breathing document–it needs tending and care to stay up-to-date and relevant. IF it is not being used enough, you can always re-think your decision and incorporate the information back into your site content, if needed.

We recommend adding a FAQ to your site or app first and then testing HOW and HOW OFTEN it is being used and which questions/terms get the most attention. Re-think and update your FAQ depending on what you find.

Popping FAQs in the footer of your site is a great way to include them without sacrificing precious website or app real estate, if you are on the fence about the whole FAQ thing. Not sure how to phrase your questions? SEE our article about phrasing your questions in the best way (with FAQ questions examples).

Go big picture

CafeFAQ | Design Brief to FAQ List in 3 Easy Steps

We recommend having a roadmap to keep your thoughts (and questions) organized, and to keep your overall goals in mind. See our FAQ Design Brief questions to try out this tried-and-true method (used by companies and agencies everywhere). What is a Design Brief? It’s simply a high-level map for a project.

Get a jumpstart with some pre-fab FAQ templates

CafeFAQ | FAQ Templates

To save time and make sure all your bases are covered, you should check out 7 Easy FAQ Templates to Jumpstart Your Best FAQ. These templates will get you started with the most common questions you should cover. You are free to rearrange and modify the text at will. Feeling unsure about your words/grammar/syntax? OR just want an extra pair of eyes to look things over? An experienced, professional FAQ writer and/or editor can help you. Post a job on CafeFAQ and find the best.

Uncover your Top 10 FAQ questions…

CafeFAQ | FAQ Finding: How To Uncover the Top Frequently Asked Questions

To construct your Top 10 FAQ List, you will want to go both inside and outside of your company to get your information. Support and sales teams can lend a hand on what the most crucial “gotchas” are for your product(s) or service(s). Outside, external sources can round out your FAQ Finding Mission.

….and be ready to employ other approaches

You are already aware of how well Google performs its everyday Web search (or you are feeling lucky, as they say). But are you aware of its Advanced Search features, or its ability to alert you to searches that relate to your company or business? Check out these and other tips and tricks and save yourself time and headaches.

What does “Begging the Question” (or “Arguing in a Circle”) mean?

CafeFAQ | What is a FAQ Begging the Question
Going in circles?

In the field of Philosophy, you beg the question when the premises of your argument ASSUME the conclusion, not support it.

Hey, what are FAQtoids? Are they like FAQs?

FAQtoids are kind of like mini-me FAQs. They use a Q and A format and are sometimes factual, sometimes tongue-in-cheek. Check out a bunch of them here.

CafeFAQ | FAQtoids FAQ toids Q Are Manischewitz Gefilte Dogs really made of fish KOSHER HAS BROWNIES CAN
For real?

Who first used the term FAQ?

FAQ was first used as an acronym between 1982 and 1985 by Eugene Miya of NASA for the SPACE mailing list. Other mailing lists and usenet groups quickly picked up this practice of answering frequently asked questions. See one of our favorite sites, FAQs About FAQs, for more info.

And one more thing of interest (at least to us Web nerds):

CafeFAQ | What is a FAQ Question Mark Emoji
Question Mark emoji

What is the Red Question Mark emoji?

The Red Question Mark was approved to be part of Unicode 6.0 in 2010 and was later added to Emoji 1.0.

Credits: Bullhorn by Us . Circle Question by Kayla . Design Brief by Edho Pratama