Random Topic #3

Frequently asked questions; CC0 Public Domain; Free for commercial use; No attribution required

Do you use FAQ or Q&A pages?

Generally, I don’t.

Frequently asked questions (FAQ) or Questions and Answers (Q&A), are listed questions and answers, all supposed to be commonly asked in some context, and pertaining to a particular topic. The format is commonly used on email mailing lists and other online forums, where certain common questions tend to recur.1

The concept of listed questions and answers is an old one. The Discovery of Witches (1647) by Matthew Hopkins is a list of questions and answers. Many old catechisms – summaries or expositions of religious doctrine – are in a Q&A format. Other examples include Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica from the late 13th century and, even older, Plato’s dialogues.2

Matthew Hopkins was a shadowy figure who called himself 'Witchfinder General' and had around 300 women executed in East Anglia during the turmoil of the English Civil War in 1645 and 1646. The title page shown here is from Hopkins's 1647 book 'The Discovery of Witches', in which he describes his grim profession.

With the advent of the early mailing lists at NASA, FAQs developed over several years starting in about 1982 because of technical limitations and expensive electronic storage. Mailing list users, especially new users, tended to ask the same questions over and over again instead of searching through past archived messages. The acronym FAQ was developed by Eugene Miya of NASA for the SPACE mailing list. Usenet newsgroups – virtual bulletin boards on a wide range of different subjects – saw similar issues in the early days. Mark Horton, a Usenet pioneer, started a series of Periodic Posts that attempted to answer common questions such as “What does ‘foobar’ mean?”, and “What does ‘unix’ stand for?”.3

Today Google says that there are about 1,610,000,000 results for a search on FAQ.  That’s right, about one billion, six hundred and ten million.

I use generally use Google when searching for an answer to something or I’ll do a search on the applicable website for whatever I’m interested in finding. Sometimes, the Google search will land me on FAQ pages, which generally aren’t as helpful as they might be. (Or maybe that’s just me.)

Image source: Pixabay; CC0 Public Domain; Free for commercial use; No attribution required


  1. FAQ; Wikipedia (accessed 9/6/2016)
  2. FAQ Origins; Wikipedia (accessed 9/6/2016)
  3. Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) History, Living Internet
computers, internet, random topic

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Hilary Sep 14, 2016

    Hi Mike – I agree FAQs aren’t always helpful … because we define our personal search term in the way we expect – but it’s not their way … so I quite often don’t find the answer.

    I do enjoy books that have indices … helps if I want to search back … I guess Kindle does that too … I haven’t thought in that direction … as I use books usually.

    Fascinating post – thanks for sharing … cheers Hilary

    • Mike Sep 14, 2016

      Kindle has a search feature, which is one advantage over hard copy books. However, I usually only use my Kindle for novels, so seldom use the search feature; but, then, novels don’t generally have indices, either.
      Mike recently posted…Oregon or Bust 1936.My Profile

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