Re: FAQs/REFs/COMs, Legitimacy (was Re: Style/History of FAQs (was...))


era eriksson (
Mon, 5 May 1997 23:11:56 +0300 (EET DST)

On Mon, 5 May 1997 11:15:03 -0700 (PDT), (nagasiva) wrote:
<... many generally very clueful things ...>
> #(Granted, a commercial FAQ masquerading as traditional is no good, but
> #you know, Pillsbury sells cookbooks right now, and they don't get much
> #attention compared to normal cookbooks; I don't think this is something
> #anyone needs to worry very much about. Probably it would be nice if
> #the news.answers moderators were prepared to intervene in cases of
> #spectacularly awful commercial bias in FAQ posting - "The Up-to-Date
> #and Complete Software Guide" in some non-MS comp.* group turning out to
> #be a Microsoft front, say. Should this ever come to pass.)
> as far as I'm concerned the 'exposure 'FAQs'' are really REFerences,
> and, where attempting to market, COMmercials. I doubt you'll be able
> to get the news.answers crew to begin more than rudimentary content
> analysis. given what the acronym 'FAQ' has come to mean (anything
> from commercial to noise-reducing-file), I gather they are hard-pressed
> to do more than restrain the obvious farces.
> generally I prefer the terminology 'REF(erence)' and 'FAQ', discerning
> a data-document containing one or more perspectives covering a subject
> field from a list of questions commonly encountered in exploration of
> a subject or communication channel, possibly accompanied by responses.
> there are distinct advantages to maintaining this distinction, some of
> which have been explained quite eloquently by previous posters (how the
> file is used and the type of info-structure which serves these usages).

If you'll allow a few more down-to-earthly comments, I think one
important reason why FAQs have often developed into "REFs", as you
call them, or hybrids of various sorts is that the authors more or
less involuntarily have drifted towards explaining backgrounds rather
than merely spewing out short answers.
You see a lot of FAQs out there which explain that "FAQ" means
Frequently Asked Questions but this one has in fact become more of a
Frequently Needed Answers or Frequently Overlooked Facts or what have
you. I think this lies very much in the nature of the [postulated]
original intent of FAQs, to reduce redundancy; a large part of the
redundant posts to a newsgroup or mailing list are, in my experience,
more or less questions you would not even want to try to answer
without delving into the backgrounds a little bit -- or, many of the
topics that make you groan "not again" are in fact not so very
frequent, but they are a pain to answer because there are too many
misconceptions to clear up before you can get down to business.
Conversely, the people who ask +those+ questions will be newbies who
are interested in getting a quick start in the field (they'd often be
reading real books instead of posting to Usenet otherwise, I guess).

The FAQ I'm currently working on <plug available by private request :->
is actually organized in sections which each start with a background
discussion of sorts, followed by a Q&A subsection. This has worked out
fairly well (although as usual, my original sectioning is becoming a
burden -- I always seem to outsmart myself here).
I don't see how it would serve anybody's interests to define this as
being one or the other. It's a document to help people understand the
subject -- as one person wrote in a comment to one of the early
versions, it's supposed to be clear enough about things people often
get wrong in one way or another, but you don't expect to download to
your brain all the knowledge in the field. (And I would hardly be
qualified to write it then.)

> #...I joined this list to get useful tools to work with.... if you're
> #going to tell this list that different kinds of FAQs vary in
> #legitimacy, would you please be so kind as to give concrete examples
> #and explanations so we can have a *proper* flamewar? I've just
> #offered you some to choose from...
> alternatively, it can be argued that the category "FAQ" can only be
> meaningfully and legitimately applied to a file which CONTAINS
> frequently asked questions by some measure (whether within a subject
> field or some communication forum). by this argument, anything else
> should be designated as a REFerence device so as not to add to the
> degeneration of the acronym 'FAQ' and its 'legitimate' usage.

Personally, I don't see any need to maintain this difference. The
commercial vs. "traditional" thread is more interesting, IMHO.

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