An FAQ is a list of frequently asked questions (FAQs) and answers on a particular topic (also known as Questions and Answers [Q&A] or Frequently Answered Questions). The format is often used in articles, websites, email lists, and online forums where common questions tend to recur, for example through posts or queries by new users related to common knowledge gaps. The purpose of an FAQ is generally to provide information on frequent questions or concerns; however, the format is a useful means of organizing information, and text consisting of questions and their answers may thus be called an FAQ regardless of whether the questions are actually frequently asked.
Since the acronym FAQ originated in textual media, its pronunciation varies. FAQ is most commonly pronounced as an initialism, "F-A-Q", but may also be pronounced as an acronym, "FAQ". Web page designers often label a single list of questions as an "FAQ", such as on Google.com, while using "FAQs" to denote multiple lists of questions such as on United States Treasury sites. Use of "FAQ" to refer to a single frequently asked question, in and of itself, is less common.
While the name may be recent, the FAQ format itself is quite old. For example, Matthew Hopkins wrote The Discovery of Witches in 1647 as a list of questions and answers, introduced as "Certain Queries answered". Many old catechisms are in a question-and-answer (Q&A) format. Summa Theologica, written by Thomas Aquinas in the second half of the 13th century, is a series of common questions about Christianity to which he wrote a series of replies. Plato's dialogues are even older.
On the Internet
The "FAQ" is an Internet textual tradition originating from the technical limitations of early mailing lists from NASA in the early 1980s. The first FAQ developed over several pre-Web years, starting from 1982 when storage was expensive. On ARPANET's SPACE mailing list, the presumption was that new users would download archived past messages through FTP. In practice this rarely happened, and the users tended to post questions to the mailing list instead of searching its archives. Repeating the "right" answers became tedious, and went against developing netiquette. A series of different measures were set up by loosely affiliated groups of computer system administrators, from regularly posted messages to netlib-like query email daemons. The acronym FAQ was developed between 1982 and 1985 by Eugene Miya of NASA for the SPACE mailing list. The format was then picked up on other mailing lists and Usenet newsgroups. Posting frequency changed to monthly, and finally weekly and daily across a variety of mailing lists and newsgroups. The first person to post a weekly FAQ was Jef Poskanzer to the Usenet net.graphics/comp.graphics newsgroups. Eugene Miya experimented with the first daily FAQ.
Meanwhile, on Usenet, Mark Horton had started a series of "Periodic Posts" (PP) which attempted to answer trivial questions with appropriate answers. Periodic summary messages posted to Usenet newsgroups attempted to reduce the continual reposting of the same basic questions and associated wrong answers. On Usenet, posting questions that were covered in a group's FAQ came to be considered poor netiquette, as it showed that the poster had not done the expected background reading before asking others to provide answers. Some groups may have multiple FAQs on related topics, or even two or more competing FAQs explaining a topic from different points of view.
Another factor on early ARPANET mailing lists was people asking questions promising to 'summarize' received answers, then either neglecting to do this or else posting simple concatenations of received replies with zero or limited quality checking.
In some cases, informative documents not in the traditional FAQ style have also been described as FAQs, particularly the video game FAQ, which is often a detailed description of gameplay, including tips, secrets, and beginning-to-end guidance. Rarely are videogame FAQs in a question-and-answer format, although they may contain a short section of questions and answers.
Over time, the accumulated FAQs across all Usenet newsgroups sparked the creation of the "*.answers" moderated newsgroups such as comp.answers, misc.answers and sci.answers for crossposting and collecting FAQ across respective comp.*, misc.*, sci.* newsgroups.
In web design
The FAQ has become an important component of websites, either as a stand-alone page or as a website section with multiple subpages per question or topic. Embedded links to FAQ pages have become commonplace in website navigation bars, bodies, or footers. The FAQ page is an important consideration in web design, in order to achieve several goals of customer service and search engine optimization (SEO), including
- reducing the workload of in-person customer service employees
- improving site navigation
- increasing the visibility of the website by matching / optimizing for specific search terms
- linking to or integrating within product pages.
- Hersch, Russ. FAQs about FAQs. 8 January 1998. http://www.faqs.org/faqs/faqs/about-faqs/.
- "About FAQs: Pronunciation". Faqs.org. Retrieved 2013-06-13.
- "FAQ". Google. Retrieved May 30, 2013.
- "OFAC FAQs: Question Index". United States Department of the Treasury. Retrieved May 30, 2013.
- Teti, John (9 September 2010). "What the FAQ?". Eurogamer. Gamer Network. Retrieved 21 July 2014.
- Kumar, Braveen (Aug 3, 2016). "The Benefits of an FAQ Page (And How to Do It Right)". Shopify.com. Retrieved February 16, 2019.
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