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Use of FAQ Pages

Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) pages are one of the most misused components of a website, mostly because they were not designed for websites. FAQs actually originated from email discussion lists that existed before the Web. Instead of sending out direct responses to individual questions and forcing users to search through their email for pertinent answers, they took the most common questions and combined them into one (usually very long) message which would be sent out to everyone on a regular basis. They were actually designed to be ignored by most of the people that received it. FAQs about FAQs is a good example of a typical FAQ, and contains other historical information as well.

A website is fundamentally different. Your website is not ad-hoc; you will decide exactly what information will be presented and exactly how it will be organized. Feedback from your visitors will give you insight into what needs to be improved or reorganized over time. Websites are also searchable, so visitors can quickly find any piece of information that might apply to them. Any information you may be inclined to include in an FAQ section is probably better utilized in the other sections of your website where users will intuitively look for it.

An FAQ section rarely improves the ability for visitors to find important pieces of information on your site— that is the job of your menus and navigation. A badly designed FAQ will actually make it harder by frustrating your user with badly organized information without a solid context. The time you spend creating an FAQ section is much better spent improving the overall organization and content of your site.

Since there are still useful applications for an FAQ sections, please refer to these guidelines for web FAQs:

  • If a piece of information is that important for you to convey, take the time to organize and present it properly. Good content in the main portions of your site should still be your main focus.
  • If a question really is being asked frequently, that means that your users are unable to locate that information where they expect to find it. You should be adding or improving that information in the appropriate place on your site.
  • Evaluate whether a question is being asked often my your target audience. Do not create the clutter of an extra page unless absolutely necessary.
  • Don't recreate your content. You have taken the time to answer this question elsewhere, so simply point your user in the right direction. If this content cannot be found easily, consider relocating it before adding an FAQ.
  • When you decide to add a question to your FAQ, try to generalize your response before posting the answer. The answer should apply to your entire audience, not just the person who asked.
  • Your FAQ should only contain questions for which you can provide an authoritative answer. Refer visitors to other department's sites where necessary or when that information already exists in a comprehensive form.
  • Your FAQ requires constant attention. As soon as a single question becomes out-of-date, it will no longer be considered a reliable source of information.
Last Updated: October 18, 2011