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HomePatterns > How to write FAQs > Go ahead, repeat yourself


 

Steps

Cautions

 

Go ahead, repeat yourself

Few guests actually read through the whole FAQ.

If you think the same tip applies in half a dozen answers, include it in each one. You won't bore anyone but yourself, because only you actually read all of those answers.

For instance, if you have ten answers describing various settings the user can change, but none of these changes takes effect until they complete the current login session, then you better warn them of that little constraint after each answer. In this way, no matter which answer they read, they will realize that even if they have made the change as you suggested, nothing will happen until they log out and log back in.

Little stupidities like this often get described only once, somewhere in a note, where nobody may stumble on the information. Result: lots of confusion, even rage.

Steps

If the user has to do the same action, write the same step, no matter how many answers you have to insert that step into.

Even if the user has to do two or three steps that are just like the ones in other answers, go ahead and put them in. Do not make the user jump to some other location to find out how to do these things, and do not be original, and write up a different way of doing the same thing, just to be creative.  Say the same thing the same way each time.

If an action involves more than three steps, OK, link to the answer that provides that procedure. 

Related article

Writing in a genre (Full chapter from Hot Text, in PDF, 770K, or about 13 minutes at 56K)

Answers to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) from Hot Text, Web Writing that Works (PDF, 995K, or about 18 minutes at 56K)

Hurray for FAQs (PricePoint)

Cautions

Cautions, too, should be repeated--wherever the user could get in trouble.

By the way, don't call a cautionary passage a note, or a tip--people often skip sections with those names, as unimportant extras.

You don't have to put a skull and crossbones next to your cautions or warnings, but you should make clear what they are, with labels and special formatting.

And don't wait until the end of the answer to mention, "Oh, by the way, back in step 3, if you happened to type the wrong name, the software probably froze up."

Better to put a caution in step 3, saying, "Please be careful to type your name right, so you don't confuse our rather simpleminded software."

Obviously, your engineers ought to stop ambushing users like this, but until they do, your job is to alert people before they get in bad trouble.

If a misstep could result in lost or garbled data, put your caution ahead of the step.

If the problems are easier to fix, put the caution right after the step.

 

 

Tell me how to solve my problem.

 

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