Skip to main content

RTFM Not Just a Disgruntled Reply

Are you or have you been new to something technical? Of course. Have you asked a question when you were lost? Have you been told, by those who you trusted to enlighten your path, "RTFM!"? Well, you are not alone, and if you felt you got a raw deal, you are not alone. However, you are wrong. "RTFM" is a perfectly valid and, despite the opinion of many, very good advice in your time of need, indeed.

The camp of the knowledge seekers is seperated into two groups, with the line between them varying depending on the context. The first and largest group is the active knowledge seeker, who is after some bit of information. The second and smaller group are those who have that information. The seeking group has two options to get what they need: utilizing known resources, such as books and articles and tutorials; or, asking those who have previously sought and found, and can give them the information they seek quickly, without wading through entire volumes of documentation.

The knowledge holders are becoming personal googles.

When you turn a sage into a personal google, you injure the spirit of both the knowledgeable and the Google. It is insulting to someone who takes time of their day, away from their job and family, volunteering for your sake, because they would prefer actually interesting questions and if you can read it in "The 'Freaking' Manual", then its not so intersting a problem to solve. When you are after such trivial issues, you have a perfect opportunity to use the wonder free service offered to you by the many choices of search engine. By going to the knowledged with small questions, you waste their time and misuse the technology they enjoy, which doesn't do anything but discourage their volunteering of their time until you actually need their help, and they are gone, and Google has reduced in its usefulness because you finally buckled down and RTFM.

RTFM now, so you still have someone to help you later.

Comments

Anonymous said…
Whenever you get the temptation to say "RTFM", you'd better make a mental note to actually do the same, and see if the advice is sane for a new user.

The problem with RTFM is quite simple: Sometimes TFM really is a F#@$ manual, and not the Fine manual that is expected or needed.

Being a local 'Google', I can tell you that more often than not, the issues I hear about are when the manual is incorrect, has dual meanings (neither of which is correct), or completely misleading. 90% of my frustration is because TFM is "The F#@%@#! manual, and not the fine manual.

The manual often makes sense to those familiar with the software, but not to those who are new to it, which is a related problem.

I outgrew my RTFM phase when I realized how terrible TFM usually is, and how resilient most manuals are to improvement.

RTFM would be a whole lot more valid if the manual was actually worth something; instead of the hastily scribbled, poorly worded, ambiguously phrased, steaming pile of failure that new users struggle with.
Calvin Spealman said…
Well this is a Python centric blog, but maybe I should have been more specific, anyway. The official Python documentation and the official tutorial are what I refer to, and they are excellent examples of good documentation. I'm drawing from this all the times people ask very basic language issues that are plainly covered in the tutorial, such as how to append to a list or what a dictionary is. Yes, I understand there are a luck of bad documentation examples out there, but I'm refering to a great one.
Paddy3118 said…
I agree with your sentiment, and the tone of the post. I just hate the acronym RTFM. I'm afraid that I always see it as 'Read The Lucking Manual' (that is Luck with an f). If I read such a reply I think the tone may be too aggressive or at least ambiguous, as read the Fine Manual is a distant second interpretation to me.
I think it is best for the helper to spell out what he thinks the reader should do to avoid any confusion.

- Paddy.

Popular posts from this blog

Respect and Code Reviews

Code Reviews in a development team only function best, or possible at all, when everyone approaches them with respect. That’s something I’ve usually taken for granted because I’ve had the opportunity to work with amazing developers who shine not just in their technical skills but in their interpersonal skills on a team. That isn’t always the case, so I’m going to put into words something that often exists just in assumptions.
You have to respect your code. This is first only because the nature and intent of code reviews are to safeguard the quality of your code, so even having code reviews demonstrates a baseline of respect for that code. But, maybe not everyone on the team has the same level of respect or entered a team with existing review traditions that they aren’t acquainted with.
There can be culture shock when you enter a team that’s really heavy on code reviews, but also if you enter a team or interact with a colleague who doesn’t share that level of respect for the process or…

On Pruning Your Passions

We live in a hobby-rich world. There is no shortage of pastimes to grow a passion for. There is a shortage of one thing: time to indulge those passions. If you're someone who pours your heart into that one thing that makes your life worthwhile, that's a great deal. But, what if you've got no shortage of interests that draw your attention and you realize you will never have the time for all of them?

If I look at all the things I'd love to do with my life as a rose bush I'm tending, I realize that careful pruning is essential for the best outcome. This is a hard lesson to learn, because it can mean cutting beautiful flowers and watching the petals fall to the ground to wither. It has to be done.

I have a full time job that takes a lot of my mental energy. I have a wife and a son and family time is very important in my house. I try to read more, and I want to keep up with new developments in my career, and I'm trying to make time for simple, intentional relaxing t…

CARDIAC: The Cardboard Computer

I am just so excited about this.


CARDIAC. The Cardboard Computer. How cool is that? This piece of history is amazing and better than that: it is extremely accessible. This fantastic design was built in 1969 by David Hagelbarger at Bell Labs to explain what computers were to those who would otherwise have no exposure to them. Miraculously, the CARDIAC (CARDboard Interactive Aid to Computation) was able to actually function as a slow and rudimentary computer. 
One of the most fascinating aspects of this gem is that at the time of its publication the scope it was able to demonstrate was actually useful in explaining what a computer was. Could you imagine trying to explain computers today with anything close to the CARDIAC?

It had 100 memory locations and only ten instructions. The memory held signed 3-digit numbers (-999 through 999) and instructions could be encoded such that the first digit was the instruction and the second two digits were the address of memory to operate on. The only re…