What I dislike about "RTFM"

Brian Kotos

January 18, 2024

I wanted to share some thoughts of mine on the acronym RTFM in software development. I'm not a fan of this term.

First, it has an abrasive, uninviting tone. If you respond like this to someone, they will be less inclined to ask for help in the future when they need it. Psychological safety is important at a human level. Without it, teams and end users are less inclined to speak up when problems arise. And thus, important problems could go unsolved. Aside from that, it's just a poor way to treat people.

Second, if someone is experiencing friction using your software to accomplish their task, there might be some valuable feedback to be gleaned. You should treat this like a code smell. Could your documentation have been more clear or more concise? Could your UI or API have been more self-evident, possibly not requiring separate documentation?

As a software author, you should listen to this feedback and look for ways to communicate more effectively.