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?

  • 5
    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
    Commented Sep 28, 2009 at 21:54

7 Answers 7


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.

  • 28
    I think the best way is, "It's explained much better in the manual/specification/etc, which you can find here: <link>"
    – GManNickG
    Commented Sep 27, 2009 at 7:20
  • 11
    @GMan even better, "It's explained much better in the [manual]" where [manual] is a link.
    – TM.
    Commented Sep 27, 2009 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/] ;) Commented Feb 20, 2013 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
    Commented Feb 21, 2013 at 5:08
  • 1
    @User.1 Read them again if you don't understand them.
    – hek2mgl
    Commented Mar 16, 2016 at 16:48

"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.

  • As RTFM stand generally for default docs, a command sample (like man rtfm) could be more appropriate than an (external) link. Commented Feb 24, 2013 at 8:08

RTFM comments generally useless

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

  • 3
    But what if they're talking about the French manual?
    – random
    Commented Sep 27, 2009 at 23:29
  • 10
    @random then you roll the R Commented Sep 28, 2009 at 0:06
  • 30
    (-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
    Commented Sep 28, 2009 at 13:34
  • @random ... Read The French Manual? I think you're wrong ;-) Commented Jan 3, 2013 at 19:01
  • 5
    @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
    Commented Mar 18, 2013 at 11:29
  • 1
    I don't get how it is useless if open questions would go away without being asked. This would be a big step forward in the history of mankind, not useless.
    – hek2mgl
    Commented Mar 16, 2016 at 16:54

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.

  • 1
    I'm sorry, but I'm going to come across as a twat here for a bit: If you actually read the meta posts, and help sections on how to ask a question, it should be bloody obvious you should have done a sensible amount of research. If you don't know where the manual is, you've not done your homework. Telling people who don't do their homework to "RTFM" is something I'd call "tough love". Is it blunt? I suppose so. Should we spare people's feelings if they haven't done the research that is expected of them? Absolutely not. Commented May 6, 2017 at 0:04
  • Besides, I'm of the opinion that offence is taken, not given. a RTFM comment is a quick, and universal way of telling people (regardless of their native language) to do some more research. I think it's a well known/understood that one learns a lot more by solving a problem by yourself. Commented May 6, 2017 at 0:06

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.

  • 4
    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.
    – Chains
    Commented Feb 27, 2013 at 19:31
  • Though oddly I'm not allowed to add new questions here, because someone thought my questions were stupid. Commented Feb 28, 2013 at 16:22
  • Thankfully there's now the "Too stupid to live" closing code -- "Off topic" due to "failure to demonstrate minimal understanding". Commented Sep 7, 2013 at 12:03
  • 1
    Ah, they took away "Too stupid to live." Nothing much left for the no effort case other than to do an ad-hoc "This question appears to be off-topic because ...", and those tend to not be worded very sensitively. Commented Oct 30, 2014 at 1:20
  • FWIW, the English Language and Usage SE site has an off-topic close code that is "Please include the research you’ve done, or consider if your question suits our English Language Learners site better. Questions that can be answered using commonly-available references are off-topic." It is quite popular. Commented Jun 9, 2019 at 13:22

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).

  • 8
    Read The Following Manual: .... profanity neutralized. Commented Sep 27, 2009 at 15:02
  • 1
    I've always been told that it means "Read The Fine Manual". Commented Oct 11, 2018 at 17:05

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 in 'My SO answer at: In the bash shell, what is “ 2>&1 ”?', 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? ;-)


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! :-)



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...

  • Counter +1! I've wrote RTFM just now in serverfault.com/questions/462288/… Commented Jan 2, 2013 at 14:11
  • 3
    I'm pretty sure I saw "RTFM" back in the 80s or earlier. Commented Jan 3, 2013 at 13:05
  • Why are there highlights like code? Commented Feb 25, 2013 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! Commented Feb 25, 2013 at 13:02

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