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"I think I know from where your problems stem.Would you, could you, RTFM?"
—The Internet Oracle
Simply, it's a "Tale From Customer Service": When assisting people with technological items, only about 1 out of 5 read the instructions for the item they've purchased. Fewer still read more than a page or two. Note that the trope title is a more polite version of the real phrase. Other versions are "Read the Friendly Manual," and "Read the Foul Manual."
It's one that you've Seen A Million Times, especially in Sit Coms: "I'm a man; I don't need to read the instructions." Or the manual is in an entirely different language, or it was written in English by someone who can barely say "I doesn't knows speaking English".
In video games, and sometimes other software, the manual may be of no help. For most games, the manual only tells you how to play the game, not how to beat it. (For that, see Guide Dang It.) It won't tell you how to solve any puzzles unless it's some form of Copy Protection. Even worse, the manual might have been written for a pre-release version of the game, with details such as the control scheme differing subtly from the released version. Similarly, in the tech field, the manuals may be written by different people than those who designed the product, leading to a Manual Misprint.
Be very careful when using this response in Real Life. Even if you mean it as an innocent suggestion, it carries an implied insult. There are also people who are asking questions when the answers are All There in the Manual not because they're stupid, but because they don't have the manual. If they bought the product used or were given it as a hand-me-down, the manual was probably lost ages ago. Some products have even shipped without a manual, or with different manuals for different releases, some of which are incomplete. A good manufacturer will post the manual for download on its website, with any updates and errata already applied, but not all manufacturers are good. This is often why they're asking in the first place.
This can also lead to Scapegoat Creator, where people forget to read the credits of a work, or don't even look at the staff.
- Die Another Day. When Q gives James Bond the Doorstopper manual for his latest gadget car, Bond tosses it in front of the vehicle's automatic shotguns which promptly blast the manual to shreds. This doesn't affect Bond's ability to use the car later on (though given his photographic memory he probably read the manual while the car was being developed).
Q: "Here's the manual, should be able to shoot through that in a couple of hours."
Bond: "Just took a few seconds, Q."
- In Commando, Cindy successfully uses a rocket launcher (to hit the wheel of a moving truck no less) despite having absolutely no military training. When Matrix asks how she did it she just says she read the instructions.
- It's subverted because she hit the truck on her second shot. Her first shot fired behind her because she was holding the rocket launcher backwards.
- The Maitlands in Beetlejuice are given a "Handbook for the Recently Deceased" when they die. Adam tries to read through it but can't comprehend it. Every time they run into trouble they're admonished that the Handbook contains everything they need to know. Other ghosts scoff at them for their inexperienced mistakes.
- Larry from Night at the Museum tries to read the directions, but they're quickly destroyed and there's no other copies. Luckily, studying the various exhibits teaches him enough to get by.
- The Fifth Element features a scene with a bunch of Always Chaotic Evil mooks "trading" for a crate of super smart guns with dozens of different modes. They don't think to ask what all the modes in question are, and decide to find out by just randomly pressing buttons. If they'd RTFM they'd have discovered that one of the little red buttons was in fact the self-destruct...
- This is Lampshaded later on in the movie. When the good guys are trying to figure out how to get the weapon against the Ultimate Evil to work, Korben says "Every weapon comes with a manual. This one must, too." The "manual", in this case, turns out to be somewhat unhelpful hints from Leeloo.
- In the Men in Black novel The Green Saliva Blues, "Jay" refuses to RTFM. Any FM, whether it be on the customs and etiquette of the species they plan to contact or a weapons manual. "Elle", who has read the freaking manual, shows him how to use the Noisy Cricket without the recoil. A probable parody, as it is lampshaded that she only knew this information from the manual, the manual was written in an alien language, and it would have shattered her wrist and probably shoulder had she been at all wrong.
- Of course there is a reason Jay hasn't read the manual. He gave up after reading the manual on alien mating habits.
- The War Against the Chtorr. The protagonist references this trope when teaching himself how to shoot a laser-sighted flechette rifle. It's just as well he does too, as the people who issued him the rifle are setting him up to be killed.
- A short story in the Bolo universe, "Operation Desert Fox" by Mercedes Lackey and Larry Dixon, details the posting of a "Desert Fox" history buff assigned to crew a Bolo called Rommel, who is similarly obsessed. After going on drills and such in their sleepy backwater planet, it is attacked by squads of AI-controlled mecha which Rommel manages to take control of. One problem -- they can't control enough of the squads to win without sacrificing the tank's personality. The commander goes digging into the tank's manual, finding an untested "full backup" function. After they win and the commander gives the "restore" command, he falls asleep from exhaustion. He is woken by the tank calling his attention to the jubilant villagers outside,then asking how he managed to save the tank:
- Isaac Asimov wrote a short story where two guys are testing a Deflector Shields equipped ship on a test flight which basically takes them through the Sun. The shields work so well they almost freeze to death. They come to their boss, intent on beating him up for sending them on that trip... only to be informed that the manuals (which they naturally threw away) contained instructions on adjusting the shield intensity.
Live Action TV
- In The Amazing Race, many teams have been eliminated because they misread a clue, or didn't notice that all they needed to know was right there.
- In Married... with Children, Al has been trying to make a carpentry workbench throughout the whole episode, but is ridculously inept at it, mostly because his manual following skills are beyond pathetic. In a Throw the Dog a Bone moment, his daughter Kelly (the resident Too Dumb to Live Flanderization) not only fixes the bench and makes it look exactly like it should, she does so in seconds (Al had been taking the whole day).
- The main character of The Greatest American Hero loses the manual for the super suit and has to learn by trial and error. Hilarity Ensues.
- In one episode of News Radio, Mr. James tests his new shredder by shredding the instructions. ("Talk about your mind-blowing irony!") He then wonders how to change the speed settings.
- In the Swedish comedy series En ängels tålamod, one of the characters is a devil living on Earth with a mission to cause sin and misery. His mortal day job is writing instruction manuals, making them as obtuse as possible...
- The Doctor threw the TARDIS manual in a supernova because he disagreed with it.
- In the original series, in one episode, the Fourth Doctor sees Romana reading it, and when she suggests a control that she notices to be essential in operating the TARDIS (and one that The Doctor has heretofore never used), he says "Hmm... Interesting," and then proceeds to rip the page out of the manual and throw it away.
- In one episode of Home Improvement, Tim doesn't think he needs to read the instructions for his new entertainment system because "this is just the manufacturer's opinion of how to put this together." Hilarity Ensues.
- Tim could be the posterboy for Did Not Read the Manual.
- Pretty much the Catch Phrase of Canada's Worst Handyman.
Mythology and Religion
- King Uzziah seemed to be a good man, he really wanted to give thanks to God but he did so in a way that brought God's wrath. The priests tried to tell him he should read the instructions because he was in the wrong but he refused, and got an infectious skin disease for it.
- In a Dilbert strip, Dogbert is working tech support and receives a call from a guy asking how to make a pie chart. Dogbert orders the guy to hack the computer into tiny pieces, mix them with flour and water and bake the mix in the oven. Dogbert then suggested that while the caller waited, he could read "the novel included with [his] software. It is the story of a Spaniard named 'Manual'." The caller then remarks how the book "lost a lot in the translation."
- In another strip, he tells a caller, "Take all the parts and arrange them in neat piles. Now stand on your chair so you can see above your cubicle wall... Now shout, 'Does anybody know how to read a manual?'" That was popular with tech support workers.
- From another perspective, someone talks about the manual and says that "You must really hate your customers", describing how poorly-written the manual was.
- In Calvin and Hobbes, there's a strip where the two try to put together a model airplane. They (or, at least Calvin) ignore the instructions completely, and end up with the newspaper glued to the floor, and a wrecked airplane.
- In a Sunday strip, said airplane was, "hit by anti-aircraft guns," to which Hobbes replies, "Your planes seem to encounter a lot of those."
- However, there is another strip where Hobbes is surprised because the instructions apparently start in English, but then go into Spanish and French. ]
- Computer hardware manufacturer MSI announced the addition of an RTFM-chip to their products designed to analyze what the user did after a problem, then send the information back to MSI, with the intention of reducing the number of tech support queries and RMA's over problems detailed in the manual.
- A common example used in school. A worksheet will read "Read all instructions before completing," and start off with relatively benign instructions. Later on, instructions start becoming bizarre with commands like "Cluck like a chicken," or whatever. If you read to the bottom, the last instruction will tell you to disregard all the other instructions, revealing to the rest of the class who actually read the entire sheet before completing it.
- This type of test is also used to measure a how good a soldier can follow orders. They are told to read through the entire sheet before they start to answer the questions. Because of a time limit many will start to panic and start filling in the answers. Those that don't panic will finally read that they don't need to answer any questions at all.
- There is a manual for Photoshop CS5 that actually is called "The missing manual: The book that should have been in the box" specifically because the manual written by the people at Photoshop was of almost no help. It's part of an entire series of books that serve as manuals for programs that either didn't come with one, or came with a really crappy manual.
- Reading the Freaking Manual can even help computers! See this news story about how an MIT AI research group's machine-learning system actually read the manual for Free Civ (a Civilization II clone) and used it to improve its victory rate from 46% up to 79%.
- RTFM is commonly used by engineering lecturers/advisers when asked a particularly stupid question. Also common is ATFQ, used in longer reports.
- Ask anyone in the tech field - especially tech support or customer service. A lot of people are guilty of this. Not only do the customers not read the manual, but oftentimes, the staff doesn't either. Many people assume that because they already know how to use it that they don't need to read the manual.
- Subverted regularly in Paranoia. In a typical example, Friend Computer assigns you a highly-advanced multi-ton killbot to use to complete your latest Troubleshooter mission. Assuming that it is even available, and not completely blacked out by censors, the information contained in the 'bot's manual will be above your security clearance, and even asking for information above your clearance is treason. Which is, of course, punished by summary execution.
- Subverted in a meta sense as well - the players are expressly forbidden from reading the actual rules section of the rulebook. (Of course, the parts they're allowed to read admit that it's entirely in the spirit of the game to read the rules, and then lie like a Persian rug if anyone tries to call them on it...)
- In Hotel Mario, Fat Mario and Gay Luigi specifically tell you to "check out the enclosed instruction book" if you need any help. You probably do, because the CD-I is mind-numbingly hard to control.
- The Irate Gamer refuses to read the Contra instruction manual for the story during his review of the game in question, so he believes the game takes place in a straight modern war setting in the likes of Rambo. He is then caught by surprise once the aliens start showing up later in the game.
- James Rolfe, The Angry Video Game Nerd, declared the uselessness the speed and altitude readings in his review of Top Gun for the NES. Naturally, he couldn't figure out how to land later on, even though the game lists the desired speed and altitude for landing RIGHT THERE AT THE BOTTOM OF THE SCREEN. Rather, he tried to land purely based on prompts like "Speed up!!" "Speed down!!" and "left left!!"
- He later did a follow-up video explaining his mistake. To be fair, a lot of other gamers had the same problem, as the "left left!!" commands really grab your attention.
- In Okami, one of the most common brushstrokes (the Power Slash) is a simple straight line, which can be hard to pull off with a control stick or the Wiimote. It can be simply and easily overcome by pressing another button, which allows you to paint straight lines. This is mentioned multiple times in both manuals, but some people have played the game numerous times without ever knowing this. All the techniques are also described down to the smallest detail in a section on the pause menu.
- Okamiden prevents this issue, however. In a more positive example of Viewers are Morons, whenever you get a new brush technique you are taken to the pause menu to read up on it. This is vital for the Magnetism technique, as there are two ways to draw it that do slightly different things (one attracts, the other repels), and the obligatory tutorial was extremely vague on how the effects were different. Understanding these differences is vital.
- People who went to Game FAQs for the transfer codes for Golden Sun discovered that every FAQ covered this subject with "Read The Freaking Manual, because we're not copying it". Many were looking because they had lost the manual, or bought it used (since used game stores usually sell just the cartridge),
- The video game Mech Commander features the ability to target specific points for massive damage on enemies, possibly the most useful ability in the game. It's not mentioned anywhere in game, and only mentioned on one page of the manual. Most Game FAQs assumed that people without the manual were playing pirated versions of the game and refused to relist the command, saying RTFM!
- Related to the above lists on Game FAQs, if you had gone to the boards before the questions section was put up, chances are you've seen threads asking stuff about the games, only for the FAQ writers and other members to say read the bloody FAQ. This even happened if the FAQ wasn't a very good one (Like say, it was based off of a Prima or Bradygames strategy guide that's half-completed or omits details) or lists information that is incorrect in the games. Especially if there was a difference between regions, or, in the case of some PC games, was not updated for a patch.
- Justified in that, most of the time, the answer is on a FAQ, so the advice is sound and correct. The site is called GameFAQs for a reason.
- On a similar note, the most commonly asked questions about City of Heroes Valentine's Day missions is "How do I destroy the Cauldron/Girdle?", despite the fact that the contact specifically tells you that you must get someone from the opposite side to do it for you.
- Also the endless questions in World of Warcraft about how to do a quest when the quest description clearly states exactly what they need to do. Incredibly common in the Death Knight starting quests.
- In Mass Effect, either Ashley or Kaidan can drop the line "Always a good idea to RTFM, sir/ma'am," in a moment of snark during the Noveria mission.
- The One Must Fall 2097 manual thanks those who have decided to read it before installing/playing the game and chastises those who have not.
- In F.E.A.R. the character Norton Mapes, a computer worker you have to rescue, has a belt buckle that reads "RTFM".
- The SNES adaptation of Home Improvement provides perhaps the ultimate aversion possible: it doesn't come with a manual, instead coming with a slip of paper which states that "real men don't need manuals".
- Yet another thing the Nethack DevTeam thought of. From their Windows binary download page:
Step 0: Promise to read Step 2 before telling us the game will not start.
- "PLEASE LOOK UP THE MANUAL FOR DETAILS."
- The Elder Scrolls has a fan site called UESP, and they tell you that if you have the manual for Daggerfall, to flat out ignore it because it was based off of an alpha version and incorrectly describes the game.
- In Schlock Mercenary, Elf initially appears to be a savant at the fabber, but it turns out that, while still incredibly advanced and far beyond the level one would expect from a grunt who hadn't completed high school... she'd been using the fabber's manual and assist options, which Kevyn calls cheating.
- Sergeant Schlock (then a corporal) discovers in mid fall that he doesn't know the exact difference between a plasma rocket and a plasma cannon. Solution -- start reading the freaking manual: "No problem we're in no hurry down here".
- As shown above, Xkcd has covered this topic.
- Truck Bearing Kibble points out how certain Fahrenheit 451 characters may experience problems of this sort.
- Excessively snarky news aggregator fark.com frequently features comments that are derived from the famous RTFM acronym: posters will advertise when posting that they DNRTFA ("Did Not Read The Farking Article") they are commenting on, or be told to RTFA ("Read The..." Eh, you can guess the rest.) when making a comment that is obviously addressed by the article in question.
- A common saying on sites like YouTube is "Read the freaking [video] description!" yet no one seems to bother anyways. Some users don't write a description at all for this reason.
- Gaia Online has a whole forum dedicated to being able to ask questions about the site and get answers from other users. That forum would be utterly dead if people would just read stickied threads or the information in the Help Center.
- Also afflicted is their MMORPG, zOMG! The forum for said MMO is filled with threads by users asking how to sell their rings... even though the item description for said rings ends with a note that "all rings are soulbound and cannot be traded or sold, with certain grandfathered exceptions". Those who did read the freaking manual then spam the forum asking how to grandfather their rings so they can sell them.
- Step-1- Read -all- the steps before continuing. Seriously.
- Used in Joueur Du Grenier's Airwolf review, at the end of his "guide on how to get angry at your computer" skit:
"But if you want to avoid all that, just read the fucking manual !"
- In one episode of The Simpsons, Homer attempts to build a barbecue grill, but he drops the English-language instructions into the pool of cement he had started, and is forced to follow the French instructions ("Le grille?! WHAT THE HELL IS THAT?!") After a few minutes of frustration, he gives up and tries to do it by himself, predictably leaving behind a jumbled mess.
- One episode of The Fairly Odd Parents had the use of the computer delayed by over 150 years because no one would read the manual (or anything else). Timmy hid the deed to a town in the old computer manual, where it remained undiscovered until he came to pick it up.
Doug Dimmadome: It was in an old computer manual? Dag nabbit, no one ever reads the manual!
- When Wubbzy gets a pet Fleegle, he throws away the manual because he thinks he won't need it. If he'd read the manual, he would have known that feeding a Fleegle candy causes it to grow exponentially.
- Or that feeding it a sandwich causes it to multiply.
- In Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa, the penguins wonder about a warning light in the plane they're flying. Skipper asks for the manual... and smashes the light bulb with it. "Problemo solved."
- One episode of Kim Possible begins with Dr. Drakken stealing a Weather Control Machine for his latest evil plan, only to discover that he has no idea how to operate it. His sidekick Shego eventually convinces him to go back and steal the manual as well.
- Averted in Avatar: The Last Airbender, by manly-man (but The Smart Guy) Sokka: when attempting to sabotage an enemy siege weapon, the very first thing he tries to find is a schematic diagram.
- In the tv movie Phineas and Ferb The Movie: Across the 2nd Dimension, after Perry's cover is blown and the boys find out their pet platypus is actually a secret agent, he gives them a pamphlet which an upset Phineas immediately throws away. Had he read it, he would have found out that Perry kept his identity a secret because he would have to leave them otherwise. It says a lot that Phineas and Ferb forgave and fought alongside Perry even without knowing.
- ↑ rings acquired before the binding mechanic was implemented