When a legal help site features a FAQ page for its users, there are some main principles to guide the design of the page layout, information organization, content to include, and writing style.
Should my legal help site have a FAQ page?
Many government digital services groups (like the US Digital Services and UK’s Government Digital Service) dissuade public services sites from having FAQ pages at all — for fear that it becomes a crutch to organize the rest of the websites’ content. See Lisa Wright’s 2018 piece on how to avoid FAQs, and instead invest in making your website better for your users overall.
That said, there are certain use cases in which FAQs may still be necessary and recommended:
- When there is a very specific, additional ‘information need’ — like during a natural disaster, public health emergency, or other special occasion where people need information that the rest of the site (which focuses on general, ‘normal times’ information) does not cover
- When users have a repeat task that they want to shortcut to — like when there is a particular login, form, or other task that they need to get to, and they don’t want to sort through lots of other content to get to this thing.
- When you need to provide ‘help and support’ to users — especially for those people who might be less familiar with navigating websites or these legal tasks, the FAQ can provide some basic explanations about how to use the site, how to find the right resource, and other tasks that you’ve observed users getting hung up on.
How can I design an effective FAQ page?
- Write the FAQ questions around user needs, goals, and tasks. The questions should be something that your users would actually say, or that they would have typed in to Google or your site’s search bar. (This might be the source of your FAQs originally — the searches that you see users doing, or that bring them to your site). The questions should resonate with their main needs, and be in language that they would use.
- Keep the Answers to the FAQs direct and clear. Answer the question asked with a short “Yes, that is correct”, “No, that is not correct,” or “It Depends.” Then add details, specifics, and citations to illustrate the answer for the user. Try not to have more than 4 sentence answers, or compound sentences.
- Highlight the Most Frequent FAQs, and Sideline the Rest. Set a hierarchy based on user search data, knowledge you have about clients, and other information you have about the most common and pressing questions. Put those most frequent of the FAQs in prominent positions — higher on the page, with larger and bolder fonts, and with more white space around them. Have the ‘spillover’ FAQs about more unique or edge-case situations available, but in less-prominent real estate, with smaller headings, and other low-prioritization.
- Organize the Questions by Category and Timeline. Impose order on the wilds of the FAQs, by putting them into segmented categories. Organize the categories into a timeline of when in a person’s situation this question would apply — at the beginning of a problem, during it, or after it?
- Pair Information with Service Referrals. If someone is asking about this topic, what are the legal, financial, dispute resolution, or government services they might also need? Prominently have links and referrals to these services, so the user can reach out to people who can help them further with this topic.
- Have ‘Last Updated’ Noted. Make sure your user can see when the content was created and updated, so they can judge if it is out of date.
- Link to Citations. For each answer, or for the whole FAQ page, have a link with a citation that will direct the interested user to more details, and the authoritative sources.