Monday, February 19, 2007

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.

3 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.

I write here about programming, how to program better, things I think are neat and are related to programming. I might write other things at my personal website.

I am happily employed by the excellent Caktus Group, located in beautiful and friendly Carrboro, NC, where I work with Python, Django, and Javascript.

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