Frequently asked questions (FAQ) or Questions and Answers (Q&A), are listed questions and answers, all supposed to be commonly asked in some context, and pertaining to a particular topic. The format is mainly used on email mailing lists and other online forums, where certain common questions tend to recur.
"FAQ" is pronounced as either an initialism (F-A-Q) or an acronym. Since the acronym FAQ originated in textual media, its pronunciation varies; "F-A-Q", "fack", "faak", "fax", and "facts" are commonly heard. Depending on usage, the term may refer specifically to a single frequently asked question, or to an assembled list of many questions and their answers. Web page designers often label a single list of questions as a "FAQ," such as on Google.com, while using "FAQs," to denote multiple lists of questions such as on United States Treasury sites.
While the name may be recent, the FAQ format itself is quite old. For instance, Matthew Hopkins wrote The Discovery of Witches in 1647 as a list of questions and answers, introduced as "Certaine 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.
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 becomes 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 news groups. 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 which are covered in a group's FAQ came to be considered poor netiquette, as it showed that the poster has not done the expected background reading before asking others to provide answers. Some groups may have multiple FAQ on related topics, or even two or more competing faq 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 little to no quality checking.
Originally the term "FAQ" referred to the Frequently Asked Question itself, and the compilation of questions and answers was known as a "FAQ list" or some similar expression. The term became 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, or if there is even any way of asking questions.
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 descriptions 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 news groups 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.*, science* newsgroups.
- "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.
- Hersch, Russ. FAQs about FAQs. 8 January 1998.
- Teti, John (9 September 2010). "What the FAQ?". Eurogamer. Gamer Network. Retrieved 21 July 2014.
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