Faq maintainers and commericialism: debate is elitist


Russell Shaw (russellshaw@delphi.com)
Tue, 06 Apr 1999 18:04:56 -0700

As author of the only major book about FAQs ("The FAQ Manual of Style c) 1996
Henry Holt), and many other books and articles about customer service on the
Internet, I've been watching this purist driven hand-wringing about
"commercialism" with bemusement and a bit of frustration.

Back when I wrote the book (which won an Amazon.com critic's award) I was
seized by the utter elitism and outright distrust that so-called non-compensated
FAQ writers regarded so-called "commercial" FAQ writers with. This view, which
seems to be the overwhelming sentiment on this list, is that amateur devotees of
a topic -- driven by labor of love and a presumption of objectivity -- are far
better qualified to write FAQs than someone who writes and maintains FAQs for a
corporate Web site. There's the arrogant and bigoted presumption that corporate
FAQ writers are whores.

There are, in fact, examples of fine and objective FAQs on both sides. Many
corporate FAQs are written in response to questions fielded by customer
service. These are real questions, not the self-serving ones composed by
already knowledgeable, small communities of users. The best corporate FAQs have
links to other, more substantial resources, such as knowledge bases, detailed
product info and bug reports.

True, these FAQs will not disparage a product, and they can only present one
side. Yet the best of these offer the distinctive advantage of being written
by, or in collaboration with, people who know all the ins and out of a product
or service. In the case of computing-related FAQs, they'll know if a fix is on
the way before a non-affiliated, "independent" FAQ writer can.

Don't lose sight of the real reason for FAQs. It's to help people. For a
befuddled user, the best solution is to check a variety of FAQs-- both the
company FAQ and any well-done "independent" ones.

If the members of this list would accept this reality as opposed to getting hung
up on silly FAQ-list management minutiae (as so many posts here are), they would
interject a real-world practicality into the FAQ-writing community that isn't
there now. The best solution is not to quibble over commerciality, but to
introduce an initiative to get the corporate FAQ writers to join this group.

Both the non-commercial and commercial FAQ writing communities have lots of
expertise to offer. If this community were tapped into, rather than disparaged
and ignored, the extra brain power on this forum would be a positive development
that would raise all boats.

Russell Shaw
Portland, Oregon

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