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Keep growing the FAQ

Every time a guest asks a question--by e-mail, phone, chat, discussion board, or mail--you should consider adding the answer to the FAQ.

If you believe the answer is already up on the FAQ, ask yourself: How come this particular guest couldn't find that?

Or, if they read it, how come they couldn't understand it?

More important, recognize that you may not really have answered the question. This morning, for example, we had a little battle with Amazon's customer support, because once we had started an order using their famous patented, copyrighted, and trademarked One Click process, the damn thing wouldn't let us change the shipping method, even though we changed the settings repeatedly. So we complained.

Their first e-mail told us how to change the settings for the One Click process, which, of course, we had already done.

Well, maybe the customer service person just hadn't read our e-mail carefully; maybe we didn't make it clear that we had already tried this.

We wrote back, asking why we weren't able to change the shipping method during the One Click process. They responded--nice to get a response, of course--with a full boilerplate FAQ about all the neat things you can change.

Of course, this routine FAQ didn't recognize the problem we had encountered, and their writer, spotting a problem with changing the settings, just dumped those answers into the e-mail, without really reading what we had written the second time.

Net result: we were annoyed.

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)

Too often FAQ writers act as if the system is always working the way it is supposed to, or the way the engineers say it will.

  • Try the task yourself, and keep looking for areas where an ordinary person--like you--might get confused.
  • Invent several scenarios, and try each one out, using your instructions.

You'll often find problems, variations, unsuspected gotchas.

And when you feel your answers are really accurate, run a little usability test, the quick-and-dirty way, using half a dozen people to see if they can actually locate the answer and, then succeed at acting on it.

You don't need scientific proof or statistically meaningful measurements.

You just need to watch people struggle with your prose.

The experience of watching people not find your answer, not follow it, not understand it, and not succeed can be pretty sobering. Your fingers will begin to itch to rewrite.


I have a few more questions....


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