The Q&A format has its uses. An FAQ section covering frequently asked questions belongs on many websites. However, this format should be used sparingly for articles.
FAQs work, so why not Q&A articles?
Unlike articles, FAQs are meant to be searched or skimmed for one question, not read word-for-word. Their readers seek answers to specific questions or solutions for problems, such as “How can I fix it when I get Error Message XYZ?” An FAQ may include many questions, but the reader is interested in one—or only a few—Q&A pairs.
Q&As make it hard to grasp an overall message
The Q&A format makes it harder for readers to grasp your overall message than with an article. A traditional article can offer an introduction, headings, and a skilled writer’s transition between topics.
Q&A interviewees may hold you hostage
The Q&A format works best when your interviewees know how to hit your readers’ hot buttons, and they’re articulate. You can’t count on finding that in every interviewee.
When you choose a Q&A format, you deny yourself the use of paraphrasing. As a reporter, I learned that only lazy reporters always use direct quotes. Paraphrases, which restate what your source said, can be more economical and effective. Plus, a colorful quote stands out better against a background of plain vanilla text.
Q&A format is okay when…
A Q&A format works well when you
- Write FAQs
- Keep it short—My gut tells me three questions is a good length. A Q&A may work well as a blog post. I often discuss reader questions on my blog.
- Interview a famous person whose fans care about every word he or she utters—Think Justin Bieber and young girls or Jack Bogle and index fund devotees.
- Edit the interview transcript—Word-for-word transcripts don’t make anyone look good. At a minimum, cut out the ums, uhs, incomplete sentences that don’t work, and irrelevant material. If you’re interviewing a corporate employee for your company’s newsletter, you can take more liberties, as long as you check with the employee to make sure you haven’t misrepresented him or her.
What do YOU think?
I’m curious to learn what you think about the pros and cons of the Q&A format. If you’ve used it effectively, feel free to share a link.