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Building a SharePoint Knowledge Base: FAQs and Bots

By Cathy Dew on January 16, 2018

The type of Knowledge Base is driven by the type of data you are presenting

In our last couple of articles, we talked through the basics of a SharePoint Knowledge Base, including the core benefits of creating one and how you can share knowledge throughout your organization. Additionally, we provided an overview of creating custom lists and how they are base for building out different knowledge base options.

Once you get the basics of building custom lists in SharePoint, you can configure them as an FAQ. An FAQ is an extremely common type of resource in a knowledge base. Having an FAQ section on your intranet can make it easy for employees to find answers to their questions without asking colleagues or supervisors. It’s a time saver, a productivity booster, and all-around beneficial feature for virtually any enterprise to have.

 

Creating an FAQ with SharePoint Custom Lists

Most of the time, adding a list to a SharePoint site is simple because Microsoft has already done the heavy lifting for you. The template is already there, which means the functionality of the list has been predetermined. All you need to do is name the list and tweak a few settings.

If what you want to do is build an FAQ for your SharePoint Knowledge Base, though, you will need to do just a little more work to customize a functional template for the job. Follow the steps above to create a custom list. You should be able to find the “Custom List” template from the “Apps you can add” menu. The steps for creating the list will be the same as with any other template. There will just be more customization steps for you to go through once you’ve created the list.

Name your list “FAQ,” “Q&A,” or “Frequently Asked Questions” (or whatever you want to call it) and click the “Create” button. Once you’ve done so, you should be taken to the list view, where you can edit individual columns. The sky is the limit with custom lists, which means you can do as much customizing as you want at this stage. An FAQ is maybe the single easiest type of custom list to create in SharePoint because you only need two columns. By default, there will only be one column on your list. Rename the column to “Question”. Then add the second column, name it “Answer”, and select “Multiple lines of text” as the column type.

Just like that, you have a simple FAQ that you can start filling in with content. Make a list of common questions that people in your department or enterprise are bound to ask, then add them to the FAQ with detailed answers or explanations. One of the great things about the SharePoint Multiline Text column type is that they can contain links within the text, which means you can link users to longer blogs, articles, tutorials, or other pieces of content if an answer requires more than a few lines of elucidation.

FAQs on your intranet make it easy for employees to find answers to questions on their own.

To give your FAQ a clean, easily scannable look, consider tweaking the view a bit before you set to work populating it with content. Just like with libraries, lists in SharePoint can be given custom views. To make your list really look like the kind of FAQ page you’re probably used to seeing around the Internet, navigate to the list in SharePoint and click “Create View.

We have two recommendations for optimal FAQ view configuration. First, if there are other columns in your list, remove them from the view. An FAQ page only needs two columns—the question column and the answer column—and anything else is just going to impair the usability of the page. In the “Columns” part of the view configuration menu, make sure that the question column is in the first position from the left, and the answer column is second. Uncheck the “Display” box next to any additional columns to ensure a clean and uncluttered look.

The second thing you can do is tweak the style of the list. Changing the style won’t alter the content that your FAQ includes, but it will change the way the content is displayed on the page. We usually prefer the Newsletter style for an FAQ, but play around with the different styles to see what they look like and what you might prefer.

Depending on your needs, you can create FAQ lists for each department or provide the information as a central knowledge repository. Either way, you will want to appoint an FAQ editor or two for each list to keep the information current, relevant, and as comprehensive as possible. The more up-to-date your FAQs are, the easier things will be for your end users—new employees especially.

 

A Note on Bots

Custom lists in SharePoint are easily the simplest and quickest way to add FAQ sections to your SharePoint site. If you want a more 21st-century-optimized Q&A option, though, you might prefer to set up a bot.

That’s right: Microsoft now offers the option to configure Q&A bots via their Azure Portal Services. Currently, this functionality is in its beta or preview phase so if you haven’t seen it yet, that’s probably why. The feature is called QnA Maker, and it’s a part of Azure Cognitive Services. When configured correctly, the bot can parse the keywords and data on an existing Q&A list, looking for pattern matches. When it finds a match to a question the user is asking, it takes the corresponding answer from the Q&A list and delivers it to the user directly. Essentially, it allows a user to type in a question and get an answer rather than having to scroll through a Q&A page. It’s not a particularly vital component of a knowledge base—especially if you already have a SharePoint custom list set up as a Q&A. Still, it can be a fun little futuristic feature to add to your site if you have the will and the technological know-how.

At 2Plus2, we can help you add a Q&A bot to your SharePoint site if you are interested. Our team can also work with you to build your Q&A section, or to solve any other issues you might be having with SharePoint custom lists. Go online to schedule a free consultation with our team or call 510-652-7700 today.

 

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Cathy Dew
Cathy Dew – CEO + Information Architect
Cathy focuses the company on our mission – Real results. Every time. Information architect and strategist, Cathy is passionate about making software work well – the function, the feel, the result.