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I encountered this question, which contains an RTFM comment in response to a user's question-comment about the answer.

I believe that in SO there should not be RTFM answers, as was already established, but my question is about RTFM comments.

When I see RTFM I find it offensive to the question asker, that may be a complete newbie, and SO also needs to serve complete newbies well. If you think the asker should RTFM, it's okay to just ignore or politely direct him/her at the documentation without the F attitude. That's not to say some users don't deserve it, and there may be claims that "it depends on the exact scenario", but I'm asking about the general spirit of the site.

So - are RTFM comments okay? Not okay? Is it reasonable to flag them?

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Just a heads up to everyone reading now, the RTFM comment is now removed –  Nathan Koop Sep 28 '09 at 12:31
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The problems with RTFM is, "what part of what manual of what what what"... I guess a RTF(include link to the manual here ) section such chapter such etc etc would be just fine. –  OscarRyz Sep 28 '09 at 21:54
    
Could someone please define RTFM-comments? –  Emil Feb 19 '13 at 0:07
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@Emil RTFM = "Read the F****** Manual" –  Kyle Trauberman Feb 20 '13 at 22:54
    
@Kyle That makes sense, hah! :) –  Emil Feb 21 '13 at 9:35
    
@Emil My answer contains a response to your inquiry –  F. Hauri Feb 23 '13 at 11:18
    
𝙍ecursive 𝙏hread, about 𝙁ormation 𝙈ethods –  F. Hauri Feb 24 '13 at 7:54
    
what about rtfm downvotes? I feel that questions sometimes got downvoted because the asker is not clever already. –  naxa May 31 '13 at 12:17

7 Answers 7

up vote 44 down vote accepted

I would flag it as requiring moderator attention if it's a post, or just flag it if it's a comment (as there aren't different options there). There are definitely better ways of drawing people's attention to the manual.

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I'm glad to see I'm not the only one who thinks that way... –  Roee Adler Sep 27 '09 at 6:47
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I think the best way is, "It's explained much better in the manual/specification/etc, which you can find here: <link>" –  GManNickG Sep 27 '09 at 7:20
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@GMan even better, "It's explained much better in the [manual]" where [manual] is a link. –  TM. Sep 27 '09 at 19:21
    
@TM. No internet links if local docs! On Linux, BSD and all Open-Sources, we have to browse man, info, /usr/share/doc and documentations packages before of requiring a network connection! So instead of a link, give a command sample and RTFM: man -Len -Tps man >manman.ps (Exception: web server docs to be browsed via network connection on localhost: [localhost/apache2-manual/] ;) –  F. Hauri Feb 20 '13 at 23:03
    
What we so easily forget when we have written our twenty thousandth line of assembly language on one specific microprocessor during the twentieth month on the same project is that the problem is often the manuals which are so obfuscated that you can't read them (unless you already know everything that's in them and therefore don't need to read them). –  User.1 Feb 21 '13 at 5:08

"RTFM" is rude, no doubt about it. However, links to the manual in comments are perfectly acceptable, and sometimes the only appropriate response to a question.

So when posting a manual link, be smart. Drop the RTFM and use nicer wording so the link survives. Suggestions:

  • Check out the manual page: (link)
  • See the manual: (link)
  • This is explained in the manual: (link)

If the OP was really lazy:

  • Your question is answered in the manual: (link) For future reference, please always remember to look in the manual first. Thanks!

If you encounter a RTFM link, and it's useful (because it contains a link to the correct manual entry), ask the comment's author to word it a bit more nicely first. Remember: Offensive-flagging just makes it go away, which is a shame if it's a useful link.

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This is a good answer –  user133440 Feb 15 '13 at 18:29
    
As RTFM stand generally for default docs, a command sample (like man rtfm) could be more appropriate than an (external) link. –  F. Hauri Feb 24 '13 at 8:08

RTFM comments generally useless

If everybody read the fine manual, most of the questions asked on the internet would go away!

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But what if they're talking about the French manual? –  random Sep 27 '09 at 23:29
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@random then you roll the R –  ongle Sep 28 '09 at 0:06
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(-1) I disagree. RTFM comments are not useless. They are inappropriate. Chances are, reading the manual would seriously help this person, which is why there is such a strong tendency and desire to write that. –  devinb Sep 28 '09 at 13:34
    
@random ... Read The French Manual? I think you're wrong ;-) –  F. Hauri Jan 3 '13 at 19:01
    
@devinb The whole point of stackexchange is to answer even simple questions so that everyone can progress smoothly as they encounter problems. Maybe the answer would have been found in the manual, but manuals are not always obvious and straightforward. By allowing the question/answer to exist both there and here, under different form/phrasing, you greatly simplify access to information for everyone. Pure RTFM answer is useless in that context. Yes, SE is manual-redundant, and this often is a brilliant idea... –  Totor Mar 18 '13 at 11:29

Not everyone knows where the manual is.

A polite comment or answer saying where to look is appropriate, as long as the answer linked is clear and obvious. If not, then more explanation will be required anyway. In that case, a real answer should be posted, linking to the manual, and explaining what the manual meant.

It has always amazed me how many people simply don't seem to know about The MSDN Library. It's a great resource, and I see nothing wrong with pointing that out.

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Since we all know what the "F" in RTFM stands for, I'd say this falls under this rule.

As GMan comments on Jon's answer, it's okay to point at the manual, especially when you point to the relevant section (which, FWIW, is what the commenter did). But clearly, the wording was way off. As we say in Germany: The music is in the tone.

Also, a link to the relevant part of an online manual is always a good addition to the question itself, especially if—as in this case—the commenter is the answerer himself.


On the side: I just flagged the comment in question, and appearently that was the last missing flag; the comment is gone now. FYI, it just read

RTFM: http://dev.mysql.com/doc/refman/5.0/en/sorting-rows.html

(and had one upvote).

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I agree, thanks –  Roee Adler Sep 27 '09 at 10:45
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Read The Following Manual: .... profanity neutralized. –  Assaf Lavie Sep 27 '09 at 15:02
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@Assaf: I'm a huge advocate of the benefit of the doubt, but there's no doubt here. –  balpha Sep 27 '09 at 17:17
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Your German sounds very Englisch to me –  Treb Sep 27 '09 at 18:48
    
@Treb: I guess you know what German saying I'm referring to :-) But I changed "German" to "Germany" to be clear –  balpha Sep 27 '09 at 18:57
    
So by that then we could flag your answer too? (Just messing with ya) –  Locutus Sep 28 '09 at 22:26
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The "F" stands for "fine". –  The Dark Avenger Dec 13 '12 at 13:26
    
Strange, I've thinked that F stand for Fine... Sorry, @TheDarkAvenger ... I read not as quick I click... –  F. Hauri Jan 2 '13 at 12:40

𝙍ecursive 𝙏hread, about 𝙁ormation 𝙈ethods

"Read The Fine/F*#@* Manual" is a very old acronym used by first BOFH which made the very first base of what all of us use now.

Looking at very old newsgroups, you may find a lot of threads like this 2003's discussion: Why there isn't an ISO: a very bad state of mind where a little irritation is readable...

There is a nice post in 2005: Why newbies don't RTFM... with a different meaning.

And finaly as a reference, one of the very first documentation servers, simply named: ftp://rtfm.mit.edu/

Nota: on Wikipedia, the story tells us that the first apparition was in 1979.

Is to be cool a requirement?

Hurting a newbie may send them to such an intellectual process where he wants to try to understand why these people I don't know had a so aggressive answer against my simple question.

Like little kids in a park who try to understand methods to discuss, share and play with others kids. Some kids are really horrible, but trying to banish them is not acceptable. Other kids have to learn how to live with (and in this case, some of this other kids learn a lot about social exceptions).

Are badly written posts useless?!

Things have to be done by normal evolution. On a world-connected exchange platform, there are a lot of people with different sensibilities and attitudes. Trying to banish people because of their speaking attitude may not be the solution at all.

(Mozart, for example, had a poor social reputation, as many other geniuses. But who would banish his contributions?)

Acceptable, but,

RTFM have to stay a quick acronym for Please, take a look at your installed documentation!

Alone it's clearly an agression, so such kind of answer or comment worth to be dropped.

If the mentioned documentation is not the default documentation installed with concerned tools, RTFM is not appropriated.

If used in answers or comments, they must be supplemented by a quick and pertinent way to find appropriate documentation, maybe with a command sample ( like there, point 4c ), as:

Please RTFM:

man Tps man >man-manpage.ps

or even for a particular section:

man -Pless\ +/^EXPANSION bash

(-: Parenthesis about bash man page:

man -Len bash | col -b | wc -lw
   5375   41026

... approx 41,000 words / 5,000 lines !!!

If it's not a F*#@ manual page, what would you call this? ;-)

Remarks

This other question about Is it OK to leave “What have you tried?” comments? is surely not a duplicate, but in fact, both questions are very close:

They reflect the teachers's legitimate irritation against students who won't to make a minimal effort.

Sometimes, the way the question is asked sound like a king ordering his servants, so if considering The customer is king could be a good commercial practice, this kind of attitude, here, is misplaced or offensive.

Anyway, if you post an answer or a comment, try to stay polite and maybe useful.

But, nobody is forced to waste their effort on an effortless question!!

If asker is human with right to be stupid, answerer is human and have legitimate limits too! :-)

Conclusion

about:

It has become fashionable to defend the use of "RTFM" comments. Some feel it is always OK to use. Some feel it is sometimes OK to use. It is NEVER OK to use. There are better ways of drawing attention to the manual.

  • fashionable to defend the use of "RTFM" : This is an arbitrary stance. RTFM acronym exist, so we have to live with.
  • always OK to use : Surely no!
  • it is sometimes OK to use : It could be resumed in this way.
  • It is NEVER OK to use : Surely no, while automatic bans is not a good idea.
  • There are better ways of drawing attention to the manual : Of course... in a perfect world!

But there is an human service for human people...

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Thanks @Bart , It's a little more readable now –  F. Hauri Jan 2 '13 at 13:26
    
Counter +1! I've wrote RTFM just now in serverfault.com/questions/462288/… –  F. Hauri Jan 2 '13 at 14:11
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I'm pretty sure I saw "RTFM" back in the 80s or earlier. –  The Dark Avenger Jan 3 '13 at 13:05
    
+1 @TheDarkAvenger wikipedia say 1979. ;-) –  F. Hauri Jan 3 '13 at 20:09
    
Why are there highlights like code? –  Donal Fellows Feb 25 '13 at 0:32
    
@DonalFellows because of some difficult I had to obtain a pretty look on my desktop... But as I know: .1 my destkop is not a reference and mostly: .2 I'm not a designer... If you think, U could do better, feel free! –  F. Hauri Feb 25 '13 at 13:02

Let's be frank here. "RTFM" -- even without a link to the specific manual & section -- has a place when the original question demonstrates a total lack of effort to find the answer through normal means. While one should be polite to newbies who are still trying to find their "posteriors", it's pretty hard to tolerate repeated posts by folks who would rather ask a question on SO than look in the obvious (and readily accessible) reference sources.

This pretty much parallels the "What have you tried?" response, though RTFM refers to lack of research while "What have you tried?" refers more to lack of thought.

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IT's actually not that hard to tolerate -- you just ignore the questions you think are stupid. I feel that way too -- why didn't you make an effort -- with some questions; but that doesn't mean the question or answers don't turn-out to be usefull -- especially when they turn-up in google search results. –  kuru kuru na... Feb 27 '13 at 19:31
    
Though oddly I'm not allowed to add new questions here, because someone thought my questions were stupid. –  The Dark Avenger Feb 28 '13 at 16:22
    
Thankfully there's now the "Too stupid to live" closing code -- "Off topic" due to "failure to demonstrate minimal understanding". –  The Dark Avenger Sep 7 '13 at 12:03

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