Content Without Context: The Problem with FAQs


I grew up in western Kansas. I feel like I know quite a bit about tornados having spent at least a couple of hours every summer hunkered down in the basement waiting for the weather to clear [insert Wizard of Oz joke]. However, my knowledge pales in comparison to Roger Edwards of the National Weather Service who has compiled a mammoth FAQ on the subject.

My purpose here is not to educate you on the differences between the F-scale and the enhanced F-scale, tornado safety in sports stadiums, or what characteristics make a good tornado forecaster — all of which are detailed in this FAQ — but to illustrate that FAQs are often not the best way to provide content on the web.

Content strategist Lisa Maria Martin definitively agrees in her recent blog entry.

“Instead of sending users to a jumble of maybe-it’s-here-maybe-it’s-not questions, the answers to FAQs should be found naturally throughout a website . . . You can hear the absurdity in the name itself: if users are asking the same questions so frequently, then there is an obvious gulf between their needs and the site content.”

She covers the main offenses of FAQs including duplication of content and the effort they require on the reader’s part to sift through a long list of not-my-questions. But she’s not totally dismissive. She understands that they are born of good intentions.

“Content creators who think in terms of questions and answers are actually thinking of their users, particularly first-time users, trying to anticipate their needs and write towards them . . . But it’s scaffolding: writing that helps you get to the writing you’re supposed to be doing. It supports you while you write your way to the heart of your content. And once you get there, you have to look back and take the scaffolding down.”

Read the entire article: Kill It With Fire! What To Do With Those Dreaded FAQs.



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