If I’ve ever found the answer to one of my questions by sifting through an FAQ, such an event was so rare that I no longer look at FAQs. There may be a few useful ones here and there, but I don’t waste my time hunting for them. Life is too short.
As a person who writes and edits for a living, I confess that I’ve been involved in creating an FAQ page or two for a website. I hope they’ve long since been deleted, and I would not be surprised if they were never updated. FAQs are prone to being neglected.
A few tips:
When someone wants you to create an FAQ, ask your first and most important question: Why?
Whatever the response is, ask your second and third questions: What are those frequently asked questions? What are the answers?
If you get a list of questions and answers, make sure the information – not the Q&A – is easy to find, in context, where the web visitor can find it without having to go to an FAQ.
If you don’t get a list of questions and answers, be glad you don’t have to create an FAQ.
I caught part of an interesting discussion on The Content Wrangler the other day about technical writer’s block. As something of a writer’s block skeptic, I was reminded (again) about the importance of defining terms.
A highlight for me in Overcoming Technical Writer’s Block was host Scott Abel’s perspective on having to meet deadlines when he worked as a journalist. As another guy whose writing career started at a daily newspaper, I could relate. Writer’s block? A reporter who can’t meet deadlines probably isn’t a reporter for very long. I think the same applies to other writers who need to finish assignments on time.
I’ve read various takes on writer’s block and accept it is a real thing in people’s lives, but it can mean quite different things in different circumstances. Much depends on how you define the words you use. Take what you mean by writing and deadline, for example. Here’s what those terms mean here at The Smith Compound:
Writing – A process for creating prose, poetry or another collection of words for any purpose. It is not an act. The writing process begins with an idea. In the news business, it often begins with an assignment to be finished by a deadline. Gathering information is part of the writing process. Figuring out how to tell a story is part of the process, too, whether the writer is hiking in the forest or fishing or riding a bicycle. Sitting in front of a computer screen or other device to put words in a certain order is part of the process. Doing any of those things while struggling to come up with an idea of what to write may indicate the existence of writer’s block.
Deadline – An unmovable target for completion of a project, writing or otherwise. If the target date can be changed, it might be a goal – or a suggestion, or maybe wishful thinking – but it isn’t a deadline. There are consequences for missing deadlines.
A few days ago my funny, clever, multitalented daughter asked if Red Dog had come up with any questions lately. I had to think for a minute; he hadn’t. Somewhat later – just today, actually – I realized why that was. Red and I haven’t had much trail time lately, just the two of us. (He never asks me anything when Mrs. Smith is around.)
With that in mind, Red and I set out this morning for a walk down by the Colorado River, which is still tryna freeze. The temperature was around 20F degrees when we started. Most of the ice I’d seen on Corn Lake in late January was gone. We went east for a mile or so on the river trail, then across a pedestrian bridge and up a steep, switchbacked cutout to the top of a bluff.
Along the way, as if on cue, Red asked me why I spend so much time doing whatever it is I do on this computer or on the other one in my home office.
“Most of that is called earning a living so we can buy dog food and treats and .…” I stopped about there because I could tell by the cold stare that he got the point.
“I’m teasing you, Red,” I said. “Feeding you is a real bargain and we’re happy to do it. You’re family!”
He smiled at that, with those big brown eyes. We kept walking.
He’d asked a great question. I’ve seen many writers respond by saying things like “I can’t not write” and “because I must” and so on. My reasons are pretty simple to explain, at least when humans ask: My job is writing and editing.
I’m fortunate that people pay me to do that sort of thing. I didn’t try to explain that to Red, and I didn’t get into why I’m putting these particular words in this particular order right now, but that’s not complicated, either.
I do it because I enjoy doing it. I like making stuff up and I like writing true stuff. It doesn’t matter much if anyone reads this, but I do appreciate those who do.
Back to the walk, which was interrupted as almost every walk with Red Dog gets interrupted, sometimes more than once. Men on the trail never say much beyond hello, if that. But women…
This morning the woman walking toward us, with a guy I’d guess was her husband or partner or whatever, said with a big smile on her face, “Oh, you’re so cute! I’m gonna take you home with me!”
Red assumed she was talking to him, and I suspect he’s right. Nobody talks to me like that.