RTFM. Read the [bad word] manual.
As in, “I don’t know how to do this.”
“Did you look at the instructions?”
“Well [rolling eyes], why don’t you read the….”
RTFM has been a byword among technical communicators for as long as I’ve been hanging out with them. (That’s more than 35 years, by the way.)
RTFM reinforces the idea that documentation is important, an essential part of any product.
But RTFM also betrays exasperation and insecurity. We — as a profession — might sound smug when we say it. But inside we’re thinking, Why don’t people don’t like to read instructions? We see it as a rejection of what we do, and ultimately of us ourselves. It stings.
It’s time to rethink RTFM.
Self-pity does not serve our profession well. If we really think that what we do contributes value, then let’s focus on contributing even more value — until nobody can deny that we bring a lot to the party.
We’re even less well-served by disdaining our customers. In an age when content has been dethroned and the audience is now king, why should we expect readers to seek out documentation for our products? We have so many options for delivering content — through videos, smartphones, and other media — that we ought to be able to customize it for our audiences.
In other words, rather than expecting our customers to come to us for knowledge, we ought to be taking content to them — where they are and in formats they can use. For that matter, with all our expertise in UX (user experience), let’s work with our product designers to eliminate the need for documentation whenever possible.
RTFM? Yeah, I still smile when I see or hear it. But it doesn’t reflect the way I really feel. I hope it doesn’t reflect the way you really feel either.