Cheat Happens In Depth FAQ Writing Tutorial
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In Depth FAQ Writing by Besonator

Ok, so you have the basics of FAQ writing down and you know what you're doing.  Let's go in depth and make your FAQ the best it can be.

1. Grammatical Composition
You want your FAQ to be readable, right?  In this section, I will walk you through some of the most common FAQ grammar.  I will also give you tips on avoiding clichés, making what you say understandable, and making sure not to use confusing instructions.

2. Mechanics I
The grease monkey side of things.  Not only does your FAQ have to be readable, the sections have to fit well together and flow along nicely.  In this section, I will give you some basic formats for sectioning and construction that will help you make your FAQ more streamlined.

3. Mechanics II
This mechanics section takes you through section construction.  From tips on how to list and categorize things, to good ways to describe items etc.  This section will also tell you exactly how to keep your lists etc. uniform.

4. Cosmetics
You've all seen FAQ's with unbelievably creative headers, banners all over formed with letters and symbols, and super-cool looking display points.  Here, I will tell you exactly how that is done and how you can do it yourself...easily!  I will also help you determine when enough is enough.  Cool is one thing, messy is another.

5. Quality, Not Quantity.  Editing 101.
You may be impressed by FAQ's with hundreds of kilobytes of information but what if the game you are writing a FAQ for isn't that long?  Keeping your FAQ to the point is important.  Here, I will give you in depth editing information and tips.  You may not want to edit, but believe me, it's always for the best.

6. Legalities, Contact Information, and Versions.
This is the technical side of things.  Firstly, you need a legal disclaimer for yourself.  Without one, your FAQ may be a sitting duck for plagiarisers.  Secondly, you need to let people know where to contact you, but what should you put, and what shouldn't you put?.  Thirdly, keeping a version log.  It keeps your readers up to date on what's happening.  I'll also give you a basic rundown on how to avoid accidental plagiarism.

7. Credits
Where I thank the people I need to for their help. =P

 

1. Grammatical Composition

This is probably one of the most important sections in this tutorial.  You write your FAQ so people can read it, so let's make sure that they can.  Some of the most commonly broken grammatical rules involve punctuation.  These can be difficult to spot (hey, I bet you can find some in this tutorial) and generally make your sentences harder to read or difficult to understand.  Here are the do's and don'ts for the most common punctuation marks:

Commas are to be used to seperate items in a series, along with joining words (and, but, for, etc.), after you introduce an idea in a sentence (i.e. As he ran, he glanced over his shoulder), and to split added information  from the rest of a sentence (i.e. The rope swing, over the river, looks ready to break).

Apostrophes are to be used to indicate possesives (Matt's, Sara's etc.), and to contract a phrase like it is into it's.  Don't use apostrophes for plurals, you don't need them there.

When you are writing your guide, try to aviod telling jokes or getting off topic.  People read your guides so that they can get help with a specific game, not so they can hear you rattle on about other things.

Making what you say understandable is absolutely key when writing a FAQ.  If the reader can't grasp what you are saying, they won't keep reading.  Here's an example of an overcomplicated section of a FAQ:

Then, turn the corner and face south.  Make sure your feet are at a perpendicular angle to the wall behind you.While standing there, attempt to focus your high-energy plasma ray towards the point of exit to open it.

Unless you are well versed, something like this could be VERY confusing.  Here's a revised version of the same thing:

Then, turn the corner and face south.  Make sure you're right up against the back wall.  Then, aim your lasers at the door to unlock it.

Much easier, right?  That just goes too show that keeping things simple is best.  People don't normally read FAQ's unless they need clear instructions on how to do something.  Try to keep it basic.

Finally, when writing, try to maintain a fluid and sophisticated word flow.  If you are talking in all internet slang, things won't turn out well at all.  Use proper grammar and make sure that it is very readable.  One way to tell is by reading it out loud.  If what you are reading sounds like someone very knowledgeable is talking, you did good.  Presenting what you say in a well informed, well written way is HUGE when writing a FAQ.

 

2. Mechanics I

Aside from making your sentences and words work well together, making the sections you put them into work together is a big thing as well.  When constructing your FAQ, try to keep like sections together, with a few exceptions.  You should start out with a table of contents, no matter what. Second should be an introductory section.  There, you should tell a little about yourself and about the guide.  From here, there's  a couple of ways that you can line up your topics.  You can either choose to put your technical topics at the beginning or at the end of the guide.  Whichever you choose, your next topic should be one of two things.  A section describing the game (if you are writing a walkthrough) or one on exactly what part of the game you are targeting.  Following this, you should do your lists.  Characters, items, weapons, vehicles, abilities, etc.  Here is one of my guides as an example:

http://www.cheathappens.com/text/mkddfaq.zip.txt

That guide has a very basic pattern.  Here's how I layed it out:

Intro Topics
Technical Topics
List Topics
In-Game Topics
Strategy Topics
Closing Topics

The intro topics are basically your introduction and game info.  The technical topics are your version history, legal information, and contact information. The list topics are lists of characters, items, unlockables, etc.  The in-game topics are your walkthrough sections.  They are where you tell the reader exactly how to do what they are looking for help with.  The strategy topics are sometimes included with the in-game topics and provide strategies dealing with individual situations.  The closing topics are generally just your credits.

Now, you'll notics that I didn't stick exactly to that pattern, that's ok as long as you keep your basic flow going.

That is a very simple way for you to lay out a solid FAQ foundation.  Of course, not everyone is going to write a FAQ in exactly the same way.  When you are writing one, give it your personal touch.  Make it unique to you.  When you first start writing, experiment with different constructional layouts until you find one that you really like.

Aside from the pattern above, here are some more that can work if done right:

Intro Topics
List Topics
In-Game Topics
Strategy Topics
Technical Topics
Closing Topics

Intro Topics
Technical Topics
List Topics
Strategy Topics
In-Game Topics
Closing Topics

 

3. Mechanics II

Once you have your sections mapped out, it's time to fill them in.  You know how to properly form things grammatically now, but how about mechanically?  We'll tackle the different kinds of topic one by one.

First, let's do a simple weapon.  You want to state what kind of weapon it is, how it's wielded, how powerful it is, who can use it, where it can be found, and some brief description.  Here's an example:

Name: Long Sword
Wield: One handed
Power: 20
Useable by: All except mages
Where to acquire: Any sword shop
Description: A simple, long bladed sword.  Easy to wield but not too powerful

Lists of things that are done like that, or better, are the ones people want to see.

Let's try something different, let's categorize some items.  First, you need to decide how you want them categorized.  The two most common ways are alphabetical, and by type.  Let's try it both ways with some common items:

Aplhabetical
Copper
Elixer
Ether
Food
Mythril
Potion

By Type
Copper
Mythril
Elixer
Ether
Potion
Food

There really is no wrong or right way of doing this, just whichever way suits your style.  Just make sure of one thing; when you pick one,
use the same style throughout the whole FAQ.  The only exception to this is characters.  Many times, they will be placed in order of
importance. Or, they could still be in alphabetical order.  Here's a list based on order of importance:

Sora
Donald
Goofy
Xemnas
King Mickey
Riku
Kairi

If you follow these simple rules, you should be well on your way to writing a successful guide.

 

4. Cosmetics

Now that your FAQ has been written up all nice, it's time to spruce things up a bit with some computer cosmetics.  These are mainly done through the creative use of letters and symbols in different patterns.  Here's an example:

 _____ _                _   _   _
/  __ \ |              | | | | | |
| /  \/ |__   ___  __ _| |_| |_| | __ _ _ __  _ __   ___ _ __  ___
| |   | '_ \ / _ \/ _` | __|  _  |/ _` | '_ \| '_ \ / _ \ '_ \/ __|
| \__/\ | | |  __/ (_| | |_| | | | (_| | |_) | |_) |  __/ | | \__ \
 \____/_| |_|\___|\__,_|\__\_| |_/\__,_| .__/| .__/ \___|_| |_|___/
                                       | |   | |
                                       |_|   |_|

As you can see, making these headers is easy.  Just make sure that you use a fixed width font like Courier New or Fixdsys.  And, wether or not you use this art (called ASCII Art), you should ALWAYS use a fixed width font for your guide.  Not only does it make the ACSII Art work well, it also keeps your lines of text straight.  Notice that in this tutorial, I am not using a fixed width font.  Here's an example of the difference:

Besonator is user number 450129
Besonator is user number 450129

Fixed width fonts use the exact same width for every character that you type.  The spaces and punctuation marks also have that same width.

To do a nice header around your topic titles (refer the the link that I posted in Section 2), here are some basic ideas.  Make a corner, a sidebar and a width determiner.  Confused?  Here are some examples:

Good corners: + * #
Good sidebars: | :
Good width determiners: = - _

How are they used?  Here's another example:

+=========================+
| They are used like this |
+=========================
+

That is a very basic header that you can do around a topic title.  You can make it look even nicer by making sure that it's right over the center of the page.  You can put things like a tidle (this thingy: ~) at the sides to make it look like a divider:

                                    +=========================+
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~| They are used like this |~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
                                    +=========================+

While this may seem tedious, eye candy is very important to a FAQ.  If it looks amazing, people will want to use it.

The no-nos of FAQ cosmetics are the following:

--Pictures
--Scattered ASCII Art.  Make it uniform.
--Writing in different fonts throughout the guide
--Writing in all CAPS.  Use them to stress a point and then turn them off.
--Excessive ASCII Art.  Keep it simple, keep it clean

 

5. Quality, Not Quantity.  Editing 101.

Once you have written your guide, you need to look back over it and edit it.  I cannot stress this enough.  While it may not seem like a big deal, editing your guide can be the difference between a site putting it up or not.  There are a few major things you should be looking for when you do your edit run:

--Edit for content.  If the guide will be posted where younger children can get to it, avoid comments regarding sexuality, violence, alcohol, or drugs.  No language either.  If your guide is going up on a site that has age restrictions (13 is the norm) then you should be fine.  But, keep in mind that parents will sometimes read a guide to see if the game is appropriate for their kids so keep this rule in mind: Make the content of your guide the same rating as the game.  Remember, you must have liked the game if you
took the time and effort to write a guide for it.  You don't want people to read your guide and then not get the game because of it.

--Edit for grammatical errors.  Yes, we discussed this before.  Just a reminder to make sure things are neat and clean.

--Edit for  information errors.  Your FAQ MUST and I repeat, MUST be accurate.  People will be relying on you to know what you are talking about.  Don't let them down.  Putting incorrect information in your guides is a sure fire way to ruin your reputation.

--Make sure you have ALL of your borrowed information cited.  Any information that you got from an outside source ABSOLUTELY MUST BE CREDITED.  If you don't, that's plagiarism and is against the law.

--Edit for excessive content.  Make sure you are straight to the point.  You don't want a lot of long, lengthy, unnessescary stuff cluttering up your guide.

Lastly, have someone proofread it for you.  You want to make sure there's nothing you missed and you also want to get an outside opinion. Make sure you get a positive response to it from the people you show it to before you submit it.  No sense sending something in that no one likes, right?

 

6. Legalities, Contact Information, and Versions.

The last thing that you need to add to your guide is your technical information.  First and foremost (and by far the most important) is your legal disclaimer.  Your legal disclaimer establishes that you and you alone are the owner of the guide.  It also states that none of the information in the guide, or the guide itself, is to be used in any way without your permission.  Here is the one that GameFAQs has for people to use:

"This may be not be reproduced under any circumstances except for personal, private use. It may not be placed on any web site or otherwise distributed publicly without advance written permission. Use of this guide on any other web site or as a part of any public display is strictly prohibited, and a violation of copyright."

This is a very simple legal disclaimer and you should modify it to fit your guide.

NOTE!: This is VERY important.  ALWAYS make sure you have stated your legal claim to your guide IN your guide.  Not somewhere else. 
Also, make sure you list what websites can post your FAQ and ones that cannot.

Your contact information gives people a way to comment, criticize, and provide feedback on your guide.  This generally includes your email address, Instant messenger addy, or a link to your profile on a website.  You'll see my contact info at the end of this guide.  You should NOT put your phone number, home address, or a link to a profile such as facebook or MySpace.  If you do, you're asking for trouble.

The last thing on your to-do list?  A version (or revision) history.  This lets people reading it know either how far along it is, or how many updates it has had and what's been in them.  Here's my version history from my MarioKart: Double Dash FAQ:

November 9, 2007
Version 0.037  I started my FAQ today. I don't know if I'll be able to complete
             it though. I know you don't traditionally complete it in one
             day but in this case I'll try to make an exception.

January 24, 2008
Version 0.074  Yeah, I know. "What in the world took you so long to add to this
             walkthrough?" 

January 25, 2008
Version 0.111  Finish the FAQ in one day? Yeah Right. Today I finished up the
             Kart section and fixed some minor errors.

January 29, 2008
Version 0.185  I finished the Cups/Courses section and did the Mushroom Cup
             in the In-Depth Course Descriptions section.

February 5, 2008
Version 0.185  Not a new version but one MAJOR change.  I changed the font from
              9-Point Fixedys to 10-Point Courier New.

February 8, 2008
Version 0.407  Finished the In-Depth Course Descriptions, the Items section,
              the Single Player Section, and the 2-4 Player Section.

February 10, 2008
Version 0.666  Did the Grand Prix, Time Trials, Co-Op, VS, Battle, Battle
              Stages, and Basic Driving Strategies sections. 
              THE HALF-WAY POINT!!!  YAY!!!
              AND TWO THIRDS!!!

February 11, 2008
Version 0.851  Almost done! Finished quite a bit today!  Added the FAQ section.
             
February 11, 2008
Version 1.00  YAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  SUBMISSION DAY!!!!  I finally finished my
             FAQ!  (Yes I know this is the same day but I worked on it two
             separate times).

February 12, 2008
Version 1.25  Proofread my FAQ and corected all of the errors that I found.
             I am planning to have my mom (who is an expert proofreader)
             proofread it.

February 13, 2008
Version 1.47  I did my second proofreading and found 22 errors.

February 13, 2008
Version 1.48  Found one more error.

February 18, 2008
Version 1.50  Added the Double Dash!! to the Basic driving strategies and
             the fountain secret to Peach Beach in the Course Secrets.

February 20, 2008
Version 1.52  I can't believe I forgot to put in that Waluigi was a Medium
             charachter! Also fixed a spelling error.

February 21, 2008
Version 1.75  Added a Q to the FAQ section and fixed another minor error.  Also
             added some tactics to the Special Prowess in the Item Strategies.

February 21, 2008
Version 1.76  Simple grammatical error.

March 2, 2008
Version 2.10  I decided that I would up the version for the time that I changed
             the font.  I didn't change it then but I feel now that a change of
             that magnitude deserves a new version.  Also added some stuff to
             the Co-Op section.  Since so many people are asking me about it,
             I am consdering adding a section on LAN.

March 12, 2008
Version 3.75  Finally got my mom to proofread this FAQ and she found 134
             errors!  Also added a site allowed to use my FAQ, added a bunch of
             course secrets sent to me by email, and added a LAN section.

March,13 2008
Version 3.80  Added staff times and corrected a few errors.

March 13, 2008
Version 3.81  My word! I fixed a grammar error that was SUPPOSED to have been
             fixed in Version 1.25-1.48!

March 14, 2008
Version 3.84  Whoops! Forgot to recognize JDthecat for one of the Course
             Secrets. +1 grammatical error fixed.

June 9, 2008
Version 3.85  Just fixed a minor sentence that did'nt sound quite right

So, as you can see, by reading this, the reader knows exactly when I did what.  But, how to calculate what version you are on... May people just wing it but, if you read the example above, you may have caught on to my way.  I simply take the number of sections in the FAQ, in this case 29.  Divide 1 by 29 and you get 0.034.  That is how much I bump up the version for each section I complete.  When I finish the last section, I make the version 1.000.  After that, I up it based on how much I do.  0.001 for every minor error fixed and so on.  Yes, you can cheat and use a calculator.

Why is a version history necessary?  Really, it's not.  But, it is a major help with figuring out how much of the FAQ remains to be completed.  Once you've done this, your FAQ is ready to submit!  Congratualtions!

 

7. Credits

--God
For keeping me going when no one else can.

--Myself
The writer of this FAQ

--PWizard and Nevermore
For hosting this tutorial and my guides.

--L
For all of his help with getting me started with writing FAQs. And, for the correct spelling of "Plagiarism"

--All of my CHU friends for their encouragement. =)

--Munchlax_1
For allowing me to use an excerpt from his guide as an example.

--CJayC and the GameFAQs help team
For allowing the public use of their legal disclaimer as seen in section 6.

 

Contact: bes4360@gmail.com
MSN: chubes4360@live.com
http://www.cheathappens.com/show_user.asp?userID=450129

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