I'm shocked, no, seriously, I am.
May 3, 2012 6:19 AM   Subscribe

Are Frequently Asked Questions, on blogs in particular, really Frequently Asked Questions?

I write a little blog that hardly anyone reads. More people read it now, since I've gotten more serious about updating regularly, etc., but still not very many, and I get very few comments. Whenever I encounter a blog I haven't seen before, one of the first things I look at is the FAQ page. I always figured I'd add one someday too, after, you know, I got asked some questions. Then the other day I found a blog that seemed very similar to mine (i.e. small and without a huge readership) and it had an FAQ page. And a little light bulb went on in my naive brain and I thought "Wait just one minute! Some of these people must be making these FAQ's up!"

So, are they? Is this considered normal and everyone does it and I just missed the memo? Or was I right initially to think that people do wait until they've been asked to answer?
posted by ocksay_uppetpay to Computers & Internet (22 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Yeah, they're often made up. It's just a writing structure that is friendly and approchable, as opposed to a bullet-point list of facts. People can identify with a question and desire to read the answer, which encourages them to actually read the list of important things. When questions do start getting asked, they'll be added to the FAQ, though.
posted by AzraelBrown at 6:22 AM on May 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

I think making up FAQs is fairly standard practice, especially amongst bloggers who don't have a huge readership.
posted by Defying Gravity at 6:23 AM on May 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

I have some friends who run popular blogs or webcomics and do, in fact, get lots of the same questions over and over again -- their FAQs are exactly as advertised.

For newer or smaller sites, I've always preferred an "about" section that just has some straightforward, basic, relevant information.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 6:30 AM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

From Wikipedia:
Originally the term FAQ referred to the Frequently Answered Question itself, and the compilation of questions and answers was known as a FAQ list or some similar expression. Today FAQ is more frequently used to refer to the list, and a text consisting of questions and their answers is often called a FAQ regardless of whether the questions are actually frequently asked, if they are asked at all.
posted by ManInSuit at 6:32 AM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Mine are all genuine and they're listed roughly in order of actual frequency. They're mostly very common questions for a composer (my profession).

The only arguable non-genuineness I can think of is that I do keep it to questions about my professional life, excluding questions about my personal life (which outnumber professional-life questions -- if we're being strict about what an FAQ is -- but aren't relevant enough in the context of a professional site to get any attention except in my one explicitly "personal" page).

Thinking about other classical musicians who have FAQ pages on their sites, I can say a strong majority have seemed genuine to me.
posted by kalapierson at 6:51 AM on May 3, 2012

I don't think the intention is to deceive, as such. Rather, people try to anticipate likely questions and head them off in advance. It's common practice to have an FAQ page on some types of site right from the start, and to pre-populate this page with the answers to obvious questions. Other questions may emerge over time, and these can then be added to the FAQ as required.
posted by pipeski at 6:53 AM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I feel like "FAQ" is pretty much just a term of art at this point, even when "Likely Asked Questions" or "Theoretically Askable Questions" would be more accurate.

See also video game FAQS, which are documents full of information that often contain no questions at all.
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:01 AM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

One could semantically argue that these questions are "frequently asked" - whether or not they are specifically asked of you, about this blog, by your readers - thus could fall under the title of "FAQ".

I say, don't worry about it, and just include useful information there. Questions you can imagine your readers having - clearly they are frequently asking them in their heads, they just haven't bothered to email you with them.
posted by aimedwander at 7:18 AM on May 3, 2012 [4 favorites]

I had an FAQ on my old blog, where the questions were asked frequently, but by friends and family rather than readers (there was no comment feature, and emails were rare).
posted by dumdidumdum at 7:27 AM on May 3, 2012

When you post an online list of questions and answers about your website, it's called "FAQ." Period.

There is no such thing as "Seldom Asked Questions" or "Never Asked Questions."

No one is going to check to see if they really are frequently asked. No one would be able to, and no one would care.

Even if someone wanted to investigate this, what would be their standard? How frequently is "frequently"? It's meaningless. Once you post the FAQ, the question has been asked at least once (by you). So the frequency is at least 1 time -- and probably more than that. In discussion seminars in college, the instructors would tell us: "Don't be afraid to ask a question -- if you have the question, everyone else is probably wondering about it too."
posted by John Cohen at 7:48 AM on May 3, 2012

It's a convention, just like an "About" page is a convention. FAQs don't have to be frequently asked any more than "Bookmarks" need to be marks in a book.

A FAQ is a digestible and easy-to-scan format for explaining basic info about a site. Many of them could as well be an About page or a Help page, or a Profile page, except that a Q&A style is often more useful to readers.

Or, to overthink the topic a little...

In an ideal world, the questions in your FAQ will hopefully no longer be frequently asked once the answers are available in the FAQ. By writing a FAQ right from the start you are arguably taking that process to its logical conclusion, preventing predictable questions from ever being frequently asked in the first place.
posted by philipy at 7:50 AM on May 3, 2012

My FAQ on my blog was a list of questions that I wished I had been asked.
posted by COD at 7:57 AM on May 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

It's a convention, just like an "About" page is a convention. FAQs don't have to be frequently asked any more than "Bookmarks" need to be marks in a book.

Over time, popular abbreviations lose their connection with the meaning of the words they originaly stood for and become words in their own right. (Though, technically, FAQ is not an acronym because it's seldom pronounced FACKW, more often EFFEIGHKYUE).

FAQ as such is now just a format for presenting text information in digestible form.

FAQs on certain types of BBS / bLogs are more likely to consist of a list of actual frequently asked questions, the purpose being to avoid cluttering threads with questions that have been answered and controversies that have been settled (or which stubbornly refuse to be settled) in the community long before. Requests to "please read the FAQ before posting" are common. But certes, such FAQ will often contain Questions We Wish People Would Ask So We Could Provide This Answer. Visitors are more likely to click and read a link labeled "FAQ" than one labeled "Site Policies".

On the other hand, corporate websites often contain FAQs that are in fact Information We Want You To Have Been Told That No One Would Ever Ask. Example: Go to any cable provider's website and look for a question like, "I think my neighbor is stealing cable service. What should I do?" This question and their answer to it will be there in some form, though no one has ever thought of asking it.
posted by Herodios at 8:18 AM on May 3, 2012

Herodios pretty much gave my answer. I've seen folks jokingly call them "frequently answered questions" and I think that gets more to the point - they're answers to questions that, perhaps, the writer WISHES you would ask. Because they don't want to go over it again or because they know it's something that they'll likely have to address again.

I link in my metafilter profile to a few answers I've given about debt issues. Not because it's likely that someone looking at it will have debt questions but because it's something I find myself addressing in Ask questions here and that makes it something I want to be easy to point someone at in the future.

I have seen FAQs that started with "Are these really frequently asked?" and which then address the point of having them. But as has been said, it's commonly accepted as a place to go if you wonder something, even if your expectation is that you likely WON'T get an answer here.
posted by phearlez at 8:28 AM on May 3, 2012

No one is going to check to see if they really are frequently asked. No one would be able to, and no one would care.

There is a blog I read where posts start with 'Several readers have asked me whether I...[trivial topic]' and then the commenters are incredulous that anyone would ever ask such a question. If you do get anyone questioning it, it's because they need a better hobby.
posted by mippy at 9:22 AM on May 3, 2012

Depending on what the blog is about, it may not be that the questions are frequently asked solely by readers of the blog, but that they are questions that are asked in real life. I have a blog and probably should have an FAQ page because I get tired of answering the same questions over and over and over again. I imagine other bloggers do the same thing -- make lists based on the questions they are asked often in real life.
posted by Felicity Rilke at 10:15 AM on May 3, 2012

There is no such thing as "Seldom Asked Questions" or "Never Asked Questions."

Because there's always an exception, I give you Seldom Asked Questions from the website of the sadly missed London venue, the Luminaire. Like their FAQs, these were most definitely actual questions. My favourite is the extended dialogue about using fireworks on stage.
posted by Infinite Jest at 11:46 AM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I authored an FAQ for a union local's web site and it was a combination of questions that genuinely walked through our door every day and questions we wished members would ask rather than doing things wrong and getting themselves in a jam they would then later want us to get them out of.

(Though, technically, FAQ is not an acronym because it's seldom pronounced FACKW, more often EFFEIGHKYUE)
I am going to start calling them FACK-YOUs from now on.

posted by looli at 12:07 PM on May 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

I put a FUQ (pronounced Fək because I am juvenile) on my site. FUQ is, of course, Frequently Unasked Questions.

I now do get a lot of the questions (or comments) as my readership has increased. It's not difficult to anticipate the kinds of questions you'll get based on your subject.

The problem with FAQs is they can become outdated and then they are an anchor to your site. Keep it updated if you are going to have one.
posted by cjorgensen at 2:43 PM on May 3, 2012

FAQ pages began more or less as Frequently Asked Questions but these days it's more of an About Me type page with interesting info to help someone understand more about the site they're reading. It's less about questions actually asked and more about "Here's what you should know if you're curious"
posted by Mr Ected at 3:57 PM on May 3, 2012

"FAQ" is absolutely an acronym in the US; rhymes with "Iraq" most of the time.

I have written FAQs for clients, and it's usually been about 10% questions people actually ask all the time and 90% questions the clients wish people would ask in advance instead of calling to complain about.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:33 PM on May 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

When designing our Toastmasters club website FAQ, I looked for three things:

1. Stuff I had wondered about when I first heard about Toastmasters, but never found the answers to till I hunted it down.
2. Stuff I found elsewhere about Toastmasters that made me say "I wish I had asked that!!!"
3. Stuff I stole from other people's FAQs, including but not limited to discussion forums where people said something like "What do your [new members/guests/family/pets] ask about Toastmasters?"

I also solicit random ideas from members of the club (one guy gave a speech where he said he thought that at first he could learn to give toasts in bars at Toastmasters), from MetaFilter questions (answered here in far more detail than what I said in my answer that day). And lately, questions that I wish people would ask, but they probably won't until our PR is much better (yes, we DO give guest speeches! ASK US. GRR.)

Very rarely, I post a question that basically lets me show off. I did that a LOT as a kid with my personal websites (e.g., "Was your SAT score or ACT score higher?") I think the temptation is much stronger when you're inexperienced or have a smaller audience. Though I am sort of tempted to put up a question like "How many times have your club's members won stuff?"

Somewhat ironically, our most common questions don't really belong on the FAQ, as they have dedicated pages - "When is your next meeting" and "where do you meet?" And I just noticed I never put up an explicit "What IS Toastmasters?" Heh.
posted by SMPA at 5:15 PM on May 3, 2012

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