Frequently Avoided Questions

My comrade, sharp tack extraordinaire at a respected academic-centered consultancy, posted the following at his organization’s official blog:

Why isn’t there a FAQ on this site?
Good question. We’ll put one up soon.

I can only assume his post is in response to 1) redundant queries or 2) the suggestion of an FAQ, specifically, to field them. His site receives respectable traffic from all sorts, folks who no doubt inundate his whipsmart cohorts with fairly tedious questions. Indeed, FAQs (in their traditional use) are useful for pre-qualifying clients & associates, redirecting lost interlopers, and translating industry jargon. But here’s why I must dissuade said tack from an FAQ: they’re designed to end a conversation before it begins.

FAQs intercept the organic development of discussion. They transform important issues of customer experience into rote resolutions. They abandon the possibility of greater insight in favor of efficient client interactions. Sure, it’s fair that in Circumstance A, a particular company would prescribe that a client performs Action B, but why squelch the emergence of a more elegant, subtle, or profound solution?

The given case of my blogging friend offers even more powerful reasons for eschewing an FAQ section altogether. Though his field is relatively misunderstood, his organization does not require extensive context-setting or process elaboration. Even were it so, they operate a blog — the ultimate ongoing archive of frequently asked questions and an ideal playground for short and long-term idea exploration. With organization features (entry tags, etc.), visitors can still browse content for need-specific posts. Moreover, their fundamental organizational goal is to start the conversation about their discipline’s philosophy. It seems that — tedium aside — any opportunity to do so should be cherished.

Now, it’s important I differentiate FAQs from dynamic help or troubleshooting guides — well-assembled examples of the latter are utterly useful. And FAQ-as-sequential-quasi-interview has particular narrative merit. But most FAQs act as a crutch for inadequate core communications. They acknowledge a recurring audience desire and then satisfy it only an afterthought. FAQs, in an attempt to be exactly the opposite, are the trademark of poorly organized, selfishly commandeered, or haphazard web content. A step above nothing, sure, but diaper stink nonetheless.

Frequently asked questions are not items to be added to a list; FAQs are cues to rethink your core communications or, at the very least, consider the user’s experience with your company, product, or service. Ideally, they are the commencement of a meaningful and mutually beneficial conversation.