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Frequently asked questions are listed questions and answers, all supposed to be commonly asked in some context, and pertaining to a particular topic. "FAQ" is usually pronounced as an initialism rather than an acronym, but an acronym form does exist. Since the acronym FAQ originated in textual media, its pronunciation
Pronunciation
Pronunciation refers to the way a word or a language is spoken, or the manner in which someone utters a word. If one is said to have "correct pronunciation", then it refers to both within a particular dialect....

 varies; "fack", "faak", "fax", and "facts" are commonly heard. Depending on usage, the term may refer specifically to a single frequently asked question, or to an assembled list of many questions and their answers.

Origins


While the name may be recent, the FAQ format itself is quite old. For instance, Matthew Hopkins
Matthew Hopkins
Matthew Hopkins was an English witchhunter whose career flourished during the time of the English Civil War. He claimed to hold the office of Witchfinder General, although that title was never bestowed by Parliament...

 wrote The Discovery of Witches in 1647 in FAQ format. He introduces it as "Certaine Queries answered," ... Many old catechism
Catechism
A catechism , i.e. to indoctrinate) is a summary or exposition of doctrine, traditionally used in Christian religious teaching from New Testament times to the present...

s are in a question-and-answer (Q&A) format. Summa Theologica
Summa Theologica
The Summa Theologiæ is the best-known work of Thomas Aquinas , and although unfinished, "one of the classics of the history of philosophy and one of the most influential works of Western literature." It is intended as a manual for beginners in theology and a compendium of all of the main...

, written by Thomas Aquinas
Thomas Aquinas
Thomas Aquinas, O.P. , also Thomas of Aquin or Aquino, was an Italian Dominican priest of the Catholic Church, and an immensely influential philosopher and theologian in the tradition of scholasticism, known as Doctor Angelicus, Doctor Communis, or Doctor Universalis...

 in the second half of the 13th century, is a series of common questions about Christianity to which he wrote his reply to each.

The "FAQ" is an Internet
Internet
The Internet is a global system of interconnected computer networks that use the standard Internet protocol suite to serve billions of users worldwide...

 textual tradition originating from a combination of mailing list laziness
Laziness
Laziness is a disinclination to activity or exertion despite having the ability to do so. It is often used as a pejorative; related terms for a person seen to be lazy include couch potato, slacker, and bludger....

 plus speculation and a separate technical and political need within NASA
NASA
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is the agency of the United States government that is responsible for the nation's civilian space program and for aeronautics and aerospace research...

 in the early 1980s. The first FAQ developed over several pre-Web years starting from 1982 when storage was expensive. On the SPACE mailing list, the presumption was that new users would ftp archived past messages. In practice, this never happened. Instead, the dynamic on mailing lists was for users to speculate rather than use very basic original sources (contacting NASA which was not part of ARPA and had only one site on the ARPANET
ARPANET
The Advanced Research Projects Agency Network , was the world's first operational packet switching network and the core network of a set that came to compose the global Internet...

) to get simple answers. Repeating the "right" answers becomes tedious; it went against developing netiquette
Netiquette
Netiquette is a set of social conventions that facilitate interaction over networks, ranging from Usenet and mailing lists to blogs and forums. These rules were described in IETF RFC 1855. However, like many Internet phenomena, the concept and its application remain in a state of flux, and vary...

: "Thanks in advance, I will summarize" and didn't. A series of different measures from regularly posted messages to netlib
Netlib
Netlib is a repository of software for scientific computing maintained by AT&T, Bell Laboratories, the University of Tennessee and Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Netlib comprises a large number of separate programs and libraries...

-like query email
Email
Electronic mail, commonly known as email or e-mail, is a method of exchanging digital messages from an author to one or more recipients. Modern email operates across the Internet or other computer networks. Some early email systems required that the author and the recipient both be online at the...

 daemons
Daemon (computer software)
In Unix and other multitasking computer operating systems, a daemon is a computer program that runs as a background process, rather than being under the direct control of an interactive user...

 were set up by loosely affiliated groups of computer system administrators. The acronym FAQ was developed in 1983 by Eugene Miya of NASA for the SPACE mailing list. (Miya notes that Mark Horton's "18 question" periodic post (PP) happened concurrent to the SPACE FAQ, although it was not labelled with the word FAQ.) The format was then picked up on other mailing lists. Posting frequency changed to monthly, and finally weekly and daily across a variety of mailing lists and newsgroups. The first person to post a weekly FAQ was Jef Poskanzer
Jef Poskanzer
Jeffrey A. Poskanzer is a computer programmer. He was the first person to post a weekly FAQ to Usenet. He developed the portable pixmap file format and Pbmplus to manipulate it. He owns the internet address acme.com , and worked on the team that ported A/UX...

 to the Usenet
Usenet
Usenet is a worldwide distributed Internet discussion system. It developed from the general purpose UUCP architecture of the same name.Duke University graduate students Tom Truscott and Jim Ellis conceived the idea in 1979 and it was established in 1980...

 [news:net.graphics net.graphics]/[news:comp.graphics comp.graphics] newsgroup
Newsgroup
A usenet newsgroup is a repository usually within the Usenet system, for messages posted from many users in different locations. The term may be confusing to some, because it is usually a discussion group. Newsgroups are technically distinct from, but functionally similar to, discussion forums on...

s. Eugene Miya experimented with the first daily FAQ. The first FAQ were initially attacked by some mailing list users for being repetitive.

On Usenet
Usenet
Usenet is a worldwide distributed Internet discussion system. It developed from the general purpose UUCP architecture of the same name.Duke University graduate students Tom Truscott and Jim Ellis conceived the idea in 1979 and it was established in 1980...

, Mark Horton started a series of "Periodic Posts" (PP) which attempted to answer trivia terminology such as "What is 'foobar
Foobar
The terms foobar /ˈfʊːbɑː/, fubar, or foo, bar, baz and qux are sometimes used as placeholder names in computer programming or computer-related documentation...

'?" with appropriate answer. Periodic summary messages posted to Usenet newsgroup
Newsgroup
A usenet newsgroup is a repository usually within the Usenet system, for messages posted from many users in different locations. The term may be confusing to some, because it is usually a discussion group. Newsgroups are technically distinct from, but functionally similar to, discussion forums on...

s attempted to reduce the continual reposting of the same basic questions and associated wrong answers. On Usenet, posting questions which are covered in a group's FAQ is often considered poor netiquette
Netiquette
Netiquette is a set of social conventions that facilitate interaction over networks, ranging from Usenet and mailing lists to blogs and forums. These rules were described in IETF RFC 1855. However, like many Internet phenomena, the concept and its application remain in a state of flux, and vary...

, as it shows that the poster has not done the expected background reading before asking others to provide answers. Some groups may have multiple FAQ on related topics, or even two or more competing FAQ explaining a topic from different points of view.

Another factor on early ARPANET mailing lists was netiquette
Netiquette
Netiquette is a set of social conventions that facilitate interaction over networks, ranging from Usenet and mailing lists to blogs and forums. These rules were described in IETF RFC 1855. However, like many Internet phenomena, the concept and its application remain in a state of flux, and vary...

, wherein people asking questions typically "promised to 'summarize' received answers." Rarely were these summaries more than mere concatenations of received electronic replies with little to no quality checking.

The initialism "FAQ" possibly started as a contrived three-letter abbreviation with an auditory similarity to the word "facts" (i.e., a statement "check the FAQs" echoes "check the facts".)

Modern developments


Originally the term FAQ referred to the Frequently Answered Question itself, and the compilation of questions and answers was known as a FAQ list or some similar expression. Today FAQ is more frequently used to refer to the list, and a text consisting of questions and their answers is often called an FAQ regardless of whether the questions are actually frequently asked (if asked at all). This is done to capitalize on the fact that the concept of a FAQ has become fairly familiar online – documents of this kind are sometimes called FAAQs (Frequently Asked and Anticipated Questions); Frequently Questioned Answers; or more humorously, IFAQs or IAQs (Infrequently Asked Questions) or even EAQs (Easily Answerable Questions).

In some cases informative documents not in the traditional FAQ style have also been called FAQ, videogame FAQ in particular. A number of online repositories of videogame FAQ have emerged in recent years, where most so-called FAQs have nothing in common with the meaning of the name, but are often instead rather detailed descriptions of gameplay, including tips, secrets, and beginning-to-end guidance. Rarely are videogame FAQ in a question-and-answer format, although they may contain a short section of questions and answers in this format.

Over time, the accumulated FAQ across all USENET
Usenet
Usenet is a worldwide distributed Internet discussion system. It developed from the general purpose UUCP architecture of the same name.Duke University graduate students Tom Truscott and Jim Ellis conceived the idea in 1979 and it was established in 1980...

 news groups sparked the creation of the "*.answers" moderated newsgroups such as [news:comp.answers comp.answers], [news:misc.answers misc.answers], [news:sci.answers sci.answers], etc. for crossposting
Crossposting
Crossposting is the act of posting the same message to multiple information channels; forums, mailing lists, or newsgroups. Crossposting is perceived as inconsiderate, poor etiquette and is banned from Usenet newsgroups and virtually all email lists...

 and collecting FAQ across respective comp.*, misc.*, sci.* newsgroups.

The term FAQ, and the idea behind it, has spread offline as well, even to areas not related to the Net at all. Even bottles of bicycle chain lubricant have been marketed with accompanying leaflets titled as a FAQ.

External links

  • Original USENET examples
  • FAQ definition, Jargon File
    Jargon File
    The Jargon File is a glossary of computer programmer slang. The original Jargon File was a collection of terms from technical cultures such as the MIT AI Lab, the Stanford AI Lab and others of the old ARPANET AI/LISP/PDP-10 communities, including Bolt, Beranek and Newman, Carnegie Mellon...

  • Usenet FAQ Archives