Guidelines for Writing FAQs

Nov 20, 2010 2 Comments by

Frequently Asked Questions  or “FAQ’s” can be a staple of communication during change. In yesterday’s post, I introduced a list of six common questions you can expect people to ask about almost any type of change.  I also shared several questions you can ask your team and your stakeholders to generate solid material for even more useful FAQ’s.

Today, I’ll get into the work of drafting and publishing your FAQ’s so you can start to realize the benefits.

Mind Your P’s and Q’s: Poor writing will reduce the impact of otherwise great answers to common questions, so be sure to follow these writing rules:

  1. Write your FAQs in simple, clear language.
  2. Be concise. I often apply the following rule of thumb once I’ve written my first draft of an answer: “How can I get this same message across while cutting the word count in half?
  3. Avoid using the passive tense. (It communicates a lack of ownership) Use crisp sentence structure, complete sentences and active tense verbs when you write FAQ’s.
  4. Have the material reviewed by your project team before sending anything out or posting it online – just to make sure the answers are accurate.

    It’s better to proactively seek a second opinion about your FAQ’s rather than waiting to hear through the rumor mill about mistakes or inaccuracies in your material.

  5. Get a neutral second opinion. I’ve had friends who are not on the project team review my FAQ’s by asking them “Will this make sense to an outsider?
  6. It may help to run your questions and answers by a few people from the impacted organizational units to get their candid feedback.  (Reviews like this also have the side benefit of building ownership for the material and the change itself.)
  7. Brainstorm with people from a few different plants, locations or work sites and see if new questions emerge that might need answering.
  8. Don’t try to answer every question you get with an FAQ – instead focus on the most common ones.  After all – a question is only an FAQ if it comes up frequently, right?
  9. It goes without saying that typos reduce the credibility of the writer and the message – so triple-check spelling and grammar.
  10. Finally, if you have a corporate communications department or legal counsel, you may want to let them look the information over to limit legal liability and verify adherence to internal communication standards.

Get ‘Em Out There: Your brilliant efforts spent creating quality FAQs will be for naught if they are not widely communicated.

Here are some ways to make that happen:

  1. Post your FAQ’s electronically on your project website.
  2. Post printed copies on company bulletin boards in hallways, conference rooms, employee shared areas or break rooms.
  3. Take them with you on site visits and make sure that everyone involved in the project uses the exact same set of FAQ’s to ensure that everyone is “singing from the same sheet of music” when asked questions about the project.
  4. Finally, be sure to gather feedback on how they are received and update them as needed.

Final Points: The use of Frequently Asked Questions can prevent a lot of communication issues and “filling in the blanks” by stakeholders, so I typically encourage my clients to use them whenever they roll out a big change.  They are easy to write and usually cost next-to-nothing to distribute.

Detective Joe Friday can teach us a thing or two about looking for communication clues.

Tomorrow I’ll wrap this series with a few more tips about writing good FAQ’s based on some lessons I have learned from Detective Sergeant Joe Friday of Dragnet…

-Steve

Question for Chatter:

  • It’s easy to post them to a website or bulletin board, but what are some other creative ways to use FAQ’s?

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Change Agent Skills, Change Communication, Change Execution, Stakeholder Readiness

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I help people and teams succeed with big changes... never a dull moment!

2 Responses to “Guidelines for Writing FAQs”

  1. chihos (@chihos) (@chihos) says:

    How to write great FAQ’S: http://t.co/euVFFmRk #project #PM & #business #team #communication

  2. Luc Quadflieg - QA Manager in Brussels says:

    It looks really useful.

    On top of it, I may add 2 personal recommendations:
    – limit the number of question to max 12. If more it is difficult to people to remember.
    – build questions from the practice of the application: leaning from testing and reviews, query management during support, incident reported by users.

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