We are often asked to put content in Frequently Asked Question format (FAQs). They’re a popular convention on the web, but we don’t recommend them and here’s why:
They’re too slow
FAQs are convenient for writers – they put everything in a long list; it’s all neatly organised and the ‘Q’ does a lot of work for you. But they’re more work for readers – questions take longer to scan and understand than simple headings and you can’t take any meaning from them in a quick glance.
You could read the headings of this article and work out, basically, what we think about FAQs. You couldn’t do that if this was an FAQ.
We use ‘frontloading’ – this is when you put the term most people are looking for at the beginning of the sentence or paragraph. If you write all subheadings with how/what/when/why (and you have to if it is a question) you can’t frontload. This means users can’t scan the words as quickly, and they can’t understand as quickly. You may not save minutes for users but you will be saving them some time.
They lead to duplication
Usually, I see FAQs duplicating content. People tell me:
“users want them in this format; they can find information faster”
If that’s true, it probably means you need to structure your existing content differently.
If a question is frequently asked, it means you need that content on your site. Structure that content clearly so you won’t need another page repeating the same information in a different way.
That problem really shows in search, where you will end up with duplicate results competing for attention. You are fighting with your own content. That can’t be efficient for you or for users.
This is actually a problem GOV.UK is experiencing. The content in our support pages is now appearing in search, so we’re stripping away all of the support content we don’t need and making it easier for users to get straight to the things they’re looking for.
They’re tonally wrong
On GOV.UK, our remit is to get the information to the whole of the UK. We have to write for everyone. The best way to do that, is to write simply and clearly and remove all duplication and superfluous text.