Taken literally, a FAQ document does what it says: it provides the questions that are frequently asked in a Usenet newsgroup (or some other forum) or about a specific topic, and provides an answer that summarizes and clarifies the actual discussion surrounding the subject. Its purpose is to diminish the recurrence of the same discussions over and over again.

As a FAQ author it's hard to keep your personal interests and pet peeves from shining through. This isn't bad as long as the questions and answers actually represent the recurrent discussion correctly. Sometimes you see a 'FAQ' that doesn't even attempt to do that: it lists those questions that the author wishes readers would ask, and the answers that the author wishes informed readers would provide. This danger is particularly high when commercial interests are at stake.

There is nothing at all wrong with shortlists that summarize a product's feaures or list its main advantages compared to the competition, or shortlists that briefly summarize a particular topic, or shortlists that briefly summarize an author's personal pet peeves; but there is something wrong with terminological confusion, so don't call such lists FAQs when they aren't. The only proper criterion for a question to appear in a FAQ is: does it come up often in relation to this topic?

Apparently (the references I can find ultimately point to the FAQs about FAQs, an introductory USENET document) the first electronic use of the word FAQ was in 1982, by a guy called Eugene Miya on a mailing list gatewayed with a newsgroup.
In the same document there is a reference to a 1980 paper document with a heading that started with Frequently Asked Questions about ....

fandango on core = F = FAQ list

FAQ /F-A-Q/ or /fak/ n.

[Usenet] 1. A Frequently Asked Question. 2. A compendium of accumulated lore, posted periodically to high-volume newsgroups in an attempt to forestall such questions. Some people prefer the term `FAQ list' or `FAQL' /fa'kl/, reserving `FAQ' for sense 1.

This lexicon itself serves as a good example of a collection of one kind of lore, although it is far too big for a regular FAQ posting. Examples: "What is the proper type of NULL?" and "What's that funny name for the # character?" are both Frequently Asked Questions. Several FAQs refer readers to this file.

--The Jargon File version 4.3.1, ed. ESR, autonoded by rescdsk.

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