Q&A format for articles: Good or bad?

Question and answer formats aren’t always ideal. Here are some examples of when you should and shouldn’t use them.

The Q&A format has its uses, and a frequently asked questions (FAQ) section belongs on many websites. However, you should use the Q&A format sparingly for articles.

1. Q&As are different from FAQs.

Unlike articles, people search and skim FAQs for one question; they don’t read them word for word. FAQ readers seek answers to specific questions or solutions to problems, such as “How can I fix error message XYZ?” An FAQ may include many questions, but the reader is only interested in a few.

2. 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 offers an introduction, headings and a skilled writer’s transition between topics.

3. Q&A interviewees may hold you hostage.

The Q&A format works best when your interviewees are articulate and know how to hit your readers’ hot buttons. You can’t find these qualities 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. Paraphrasing, which restates what your source said, can be more economical and effective. Plus, a colorful quote stands out better against a background of plain, vanilla text.

A Q&A format works well when you:

1. Write FAQs.

2. Keep it short. Three questions is a good length. A Q&A may work well as a blog post. I often discuss reader questions on my blog.

3. Interview a famous person whose fans care about every word he or she utters. Think Justin Bieber.

4. 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 interview an employee for your company’s newsletter, you can take more liberties as long as you check with the employee to make sure you don’t misrepresent him or her.

What do you think about the pros and cons of the Q&A format?

Susan Weiner helps financial professionals increase the impact of their writing on clients and prospects. She blogs at InvestmentWriting.com, where a version of this article originally appeared. (Image via)

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