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Don’t get me wrong in the beginning of reading this. I really mean the label and not the content of FAQ. The content is very useful if its’ made the right way (as here on ux.se), but there are plenty of examples where it isn’t. The real question concerns the label which is a convention I’d like to challenge.

History

In 1647 Matthew Hopkins wrote The Discovery of Witches which were introduced as "Certain Queries answered" and had the form of a list of Question and Answer, even if the topic is inappropriate by today’s standards. The label FAQ origins from the early 1980s mailing lists where NASA hoped to get new users read the old mail conversations, which were not the case. Instead the same questions were answered again and again and the need for FAQ was born. The acronym FAQ was invented by Eugene Miya and FAQ were later used in mail on a weekly basis at first and later on as a daily mail.

Today FAQ is more frequently used to refer to the list, and a text consisting of questions and their answers is often called an FAQ regardless of whether the questions are actually frequently asked, if they are asked at all.[1]

Problem

Acronyms are generally bad, since it excludes those who do not know the meaning. They either have to search for the acronym, if they are interested, or just ignore it. If a label is ignored, there is not much use of it and an entire section of valid content is lost by bad labeling. However, it is a very strong web convention which might lead to confusion over time for experienced users. Also the original meaning have changed (see quote), which also implies that the label would be wrong.

Question

Isn’t the FAQ label obsolete by now? and if so How do we relabel it to suit both experienced and new users?


Edit: I’d really like to know why we can or cannot change the label FAQ. Current answer does not meet that criterion.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FAQ

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FAQ is as obsolete as using a 3.5" floppy disk as a save icon, which is to say: not at all. –  zzzzBov Mar 13 '12 at 14:56
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I think in terms of this site it could have a much better name. As most of us have noticed, people often don't read it first. Maybe something like "Site Rules" or "How to Use" –  Matt Rockwell Mar 13 '12 at 15:25
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+1 for background information. –  Patrick McElhaney Mar 13 '12 at 15:37
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Your question reveals a false assumption: if you are asking what label should replace FAQ, FAQ couldn't possibly be "obsolete" as a term. Otherwise, we'd already know its replacement as a commonly accepted alternative. –  tajmo Mar 13 '12 at 19:57
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There are two faq labels on all StackExchange sites. One next to the search box, and one that sorts the questions. I have honestly no idea what that last faq label do? Is this a list over the most duplicated questions? Frequently Answered Questions? It's not about votes, because there's another menu item that sorts by votes. What the heck does that faq do? –  Jørn E. Angeltveit Mar 15 '12 at 19:58

9 Answers 9

up vote 16 down vote accepted

There is no reason you cannot relabel FAQ. Contrary to belief, most popular websites refrain from using the term altogether. For example, Twitter labels their FAQ section "help", as does both Facebook and Google.

If you want to relabel FAQ, go with either help or support. Both translate worldwide and the meanings are easier to conceptualize than FAQ.

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Great answer, you make a good point and reference iconic sites. Love it! –  Benny Skogberg Mar 17 '12 at 19:31

This might be another of those things like the floppy disk being used to represent "Save".

What it represents has long since evolved away from the initial coining of the expression - there have been discussions on Meta Stack Overflow about the naming and use of FAQ on these websites - but it's what people expect to find and will go looking for if necessary.

It's probably not as entrenched as the floppy disk icon, but there will still be a resistance to change.

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FAQs aka Help. Sometimes you've just got the learn the language. And what does URL stand for ? ;-) –  PhillipW Mar 13 '12 at 11:07
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URL is the thingy you type into google, right? (Sometimes you don't have to learn the language ;) ). –  MSalters Mar 13 '12 at 11:42
    
@ChrisF - Except when it isn't. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/URL_%28disambiguation%29 –  Michael Kjörling Mar 13 '12 at 12:36
    
@PhillipW - URL == Uniform Resource Locator. –  ChrisF Mar 13 '12 at 12:39
    
I was thinking more about the other meanings of the abbreviation, but sure, that too. Abbreviations are useful within their context, but can easily become ambigious outside of it. Let's have someone in the US and someone in Australia agree on when exactly 12:00 EST occurs, without other context. (There's US Eastern Standard Time, Australian Eastern Standard Time‌​, and European Summer Time.) –  Michael Kjörling Mar 13 '12 at 12:42

I think the problem is the reverse--the fact that FAQ lists are no longer actually lists of frequently asked questions. FAQs are still important, but all to often the FAQs are incredibly poorly written or just plain irrelevant. A new label won't fix that problem.

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I agree. They are more like PAQs (Potentially Asked Questions) –  cdeszaq Mar 13 '12 at 15:17
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How do the users even know their question is one that is Frequently Asked anyway? The whole idea of FAQs are really what the website owner deems as questions that are asked frequently (or more often, the questions they just pull out of thin air as being 'frequently asked'). If I am on an eCommerce site and need to ask if they ship to England, is that a frequently-asked-question to this specific site? How am I supposed to know that? –  JonW Mar 13 '12 at 15:38
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From the customer-side, it's often pretty obvious. The questions are often like "Why are our products so awesome!?" kind of crap written by marketing. From the business side, I've, personally, rarely see the FAQ list actually being generated from an actual list from, say support. Or the front desk. Or any actual log of real questions being asked. A true FAQ should be a living document and maintained, ideally, by the help/support folks directly. –  DA01 Mar 13 '12 at 15:59
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I'm sick of "Questions we'd like you to ask." –  aslum Mar 13 '12 at 16:13

Whether or not people recognize the term 'FAQ', it's still a bad way of labelling help information, because it doesn't clearly communicate what specific content the text provides.

Users are usually reluctant to read help material, because they are bad at making short-term sacrifices for long-term gains - especially if they imagine they already know it all through previous exposure to similar applications. As such, they won't read a help topic unless it's clearly signposted as useful, and directly related to their current task. A vague title like 'FAQ' doesn't mean much more than 'here's some stuff we think many of you need corrections on'. That's not enough to attract someone.

As for the term itself, it's well-used enough not to require explanation. But there's no use to a clear signal if it doesn't get users to read relevant content.

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Exactly! Users don't take the time browsing through questions they don't have. Thanx for this answer! –  Benny Skogberg Mar 17 '12 at 19:33
    
It's not just that - even if the FAQ does carry content the user could benefit from, a title like 'Frequently Asked Questions' doesn't communicate that. It's better to provide context-sensitive links to help content directly associated with the user's current tasks, or else you'll never get readers. –  Jimmy Breck-McKye Mar 17 '12 at 22:33

Obsolete, no.

It is still and will likely remain the most intuitive label for sections of "frequently asked questions" or similar secondary information.


When not to use FAQ

I do believe there are plenty of times where "FAQ" isn't the right label. I think it boils down to the question of if the term you are considering as an alternative is REALLY more intuitive than FAQ. Does it describe the section better? Would the user be able to navigate there intuitively?

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Great reasoning. Wrong content on right label! You're definitely on to something here –  Benny Skogberg Mar 16 '12 at 4:18

No

If it's in use and is understood by the majority - how can it be obsolete?

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Isn’t the FAQ label obsolete by now?

I'd say no, it isn't. The label FAQ is widely used which means it isn't obsolete. For example: Google, Apple, the Oxford English Dictionary, and the Nielsen Group (UX conferences) all use the label FAQ.

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Firstly great work with history! My opinion is that, regardless of content and type some standard practice come to existence, blind folded. FAQ is possibly acting as a mere time saver (modern times) and a standard practice. I have seen site that seldom has content in it, but still has FAQ page :). SO, in short, FAQ has become more of a standard practice for few and time saver for many.

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Welcome to UX Stack Exchange. Great attempt at answering but the OP is asking about the label (the wording) not about the section itself. –  dnbrv Mar 15 '12 at 13:21
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@dnbrv tnx for encouragement, i would improve further while answering.. :) –  sree Mar 15 '12 at 13:28

My own view of the topic is that the label FAQ is obsolete, for a number of reasons. To begin with, it’s an acronym which is bad in itself since new users of the web doesn't immediately get what it means. This means that a whole section, which could be useful, is lost altogether. Second it is not always frequently asked questions, but questions that content providers would like the users to read. In those cases it is more accurate to label the FAQ as help.

Still, I'm part of a minority, both when it comes to answers and votes on this topic. The following graph (a snapshot from march 22nd) makes it clear to me that it isn't as easy as I first thought. The User Experience Stackexchange community is strongly against relabeling FAQ to something else.

Graph of votes and answers until march 22

My second question "How do we relabel it to suit both experienced and new users?" were answered by Hillier. His answer was to look at the some of the worlds leading websites such as Google, Facebook and Twitter, who doesn't use FAQ but just help. Their help content is extensive and not always in the Question and Answer form, thus it isn't a real FAQ section.

If one are going to change the label, one could use double coding, using both the suggested "help" and the acronym "faq" together. Then new user would know what help is, and the more experienced user would know that the help section is in a form of frequently asked questions. Like the following:

Example of different label for FAQ

NOTE: This is just an example and not a real suggestion of change to this site. If I would like to have a discussion of this sites' FAQ-label I would post it on meta.

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