FAQs Done Right

Solution and Strategy Path

In the circle of Web content life, FAQ sections are an endangered species. We’ve previously discussed the relevance of FAQs: Should FAQs go extinct, or are they a useful tool in your content ecosystem?

Kathryn Catania, Chief of the Plain Language and Content Division at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, encourages agencies to take a critical look at how content should be delivered.

“FAQs can be overwhelming and leave your customers searching through a sea of content,” Catania said. “Before creating a FAQ, think about what you are trying to say, what you want people to do with that information, and the most effective way to convey that information. Often your best solution is a clear, well-organized main content page explaining a process.”

For agencies using FAQs, best practices in design and content still apply. Catania shared tips for building a useful FAQ section with the Plain Language Action and Information Network (PLAIN).

Top FAQ Tips {.post-title}

Catania highlighted some top tips for improving FAQs:

  • Supplement your main content with FAQs, but don’t try to replace the main content. Do not use FAQs to explain an entire process; a landing page should explain the basics.
  • Use real customer feedback. Do not assume what kinds of questions people will have. Monitor customer calls and emails to create helpful FAQs.
  • Use language that non-experts will understand. Use plain language when drafting FAQs. Do not burden your reader with insider jargon or undefined acronyms.
  • Provide unique content with your FAQs. When a FAQ has the same content as other Web pages, it usually means that the FAQ content is redundant and can easily become outdated, especially when content to the website is updated but the FAQs are not.
  • Limit the volume of content. When there are too many questions, searching through them can overwhelm the reader. They may never find an answer to their question.
    A Frequently asked questions hallway
Designing and Editing FAQs {.post-title}

If your agency is using FAQs, the order, length, and content is critical in providing a good user experience. When editing, Catania uses the following process:

  1. Read through all of the FAQs first. Then, go through and group them by topic/subject.
  2. Develop headings for each section and organize the content in a way that would make sense to the reader.
  3. Read through each section and edit the content.
    • Focus on steps in a process. Think about what the reader is trying to accomplish.
    • Eliminate redundancies. This often helps with organization.

For a good agency example, Catania pointed to the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) Frequently Asked Questions about travel.

“TSA’s Travel FAQ highlights real frequently asked questions from flyers,” Catania said. “It uses clear headings to chunk the FAQ into sections and accordion files to keep the page short. My favorite part is that the questions are very short and written as if person on the street asked them instead of sounding overly bureaucratic or riddled with insider jargon.”

Turning FAQs Into Web Content {.post-title}

Whether you are trying to eliminate your FAQ section or make certain pieces of information more visible, you may find yourself turning FAQs into Web content. Catania considers the following:

  • How many questions are in the FAQ?
  • Who will be looking at this content?
  • Is the current format helpful to the reader?
  • Is this information already available on the Web in another format?
  • Is the current format easy for readers to navigate and understand?

At USCIS, the Form Filing Tips page began as a lengthy FAQ. Catania’s team turned the FAQ into Web content by adding jump links and headings for people to find their answer.

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