Is using the term "RTFM" followed up by links to specific parts of the manual, and a discussion of the content innapropriate?

Should you get a downvote simply by having RTFM in an answer/comment/question?

Using apache rewrite modules without .htaccess file

Feels a bit harsh to lose points when being helpful...


5 Answers 5


You can get a down vote from anyone for any reason whatsoever, as long as they have met the 125 reputation requirement. Such is the nature of community moderation.

I have found that even vaguely snarky answers can often result in less positive success across the community. Simply put, consider whether one person in a very large audience of people would potentially find your answer less than ideal.

  • I guess that is the right answer to the question, even if not that satisfying.
    – dunxd
    Commented Oct 14, 2010 at 8:40

I think it is a little odd in this case that it does come with some helpful information, but in general I feel that sort of thing is the start of the decline of System administration communities.

I believe that so much that I just wrote a whole Server Fault blog post on it:


  • Nice blog post. I agree totally that there is a risk in any forum that it descends into "snarkyness", and flame wars. That still seems an inherant risk with "game" systems such as this. But the benefits probably outweigh the risks, and I can't say I've seen it done better anywhere else out there.
    – dunxd
    Commented Oct 14, 2010 at 8:37
  • The reason I love the Stack Overflow system is that is strongly discourages this can't agree more with you Kyle, I 100% discourage people to use those terms. It not only make people refrain from posting something but create a distance between new users and the community.
    – Prix
    Commented Oct 14, 2010 at 16:23
  • That link is dead. blog.serverfault.com/post/1306724710 works. Commented Jul 19, 2011 at 7:47

RTFFAQ! (How does that sound to you?)

Remember, there are plenty of forums where people can go and receive a snarky "RTFM". Those sites aren't helpful. The SE community exists because we believe it's possible to answer questions in an informative and friendly way.

Your answer would have been received better if you said "Read the manual", or "It's in the manual" instead of "RTFM!". Do you use the phrase "f*cking manual" in real life? Probably not, because people would be offended. It's not that much different here. In fact, your comments are more likely to be misinterpreted because it's hard to communicate emotion using written text.

The comment "RTFM" would be perceived as snarky by most people, and the explanation point adds to the snarkyness factor.

However, when I read your comment in context, it doesn't really seem all that snarky to me.

  • 4
    "Do you use the phrase "f*cking manual" in real life?" Sure do - daily! Commented Oct 13, 2010 at 20:45
  • Yes - I murmer it with great frequency. But I didn't use the phrase "f*cking manual" on serverfault. RTFM is part of our everyday language. It's a joke, like ROFL, PITA and ASP, in our TLA filled industry. The irony of Prix commenting in a RTFFAQ way without adding anything interesting to the conversation isn't lost on me. But it feels disruptive more than helpful.
    – dunxd
    Commented Oct 14, 2010 at 8:31

I personally believe that in many cases RTFM is all the OP deserves, because the question clearly indicates they have not done so. However, such a response is frowned upon on this site, as many (most?) others believe that we should take the time and trouble to read the manuals on behalf of those too lazy to do so for themselves.

As the nature of this site is essentially one of majority rules that is how it is and there's no point in us going against the grain.

  • 2
    Three Thoughts to consider: 1) Forget about the OP -- If you answer the question itself then it might be useful to others in the future. 2) I don't think you should take the time if you don't want to. SF should be fun, and if you don't want to bother to answer a particular question that is fine. Only answer the ones you will have fun answering. 3) If you think it is just a crappy question (i.e. simple and poorly written), you can always downvote if you feel it deserves it. Commented Oct 13, 2010 at 21:01
  • @Kyle, 1) I believe it is equally important for anyone seeing the question in the future to understand that they have a duty to read the manual as well, giving value to an RTFM answer. Of course that's just my opinion and I accept that it's not shared by all. 2) If the question interests me I might research it but generally I don't. 3) I do, or I might vote to close it. Commented Oct 14, 2010 at 2:55
  • 2
    +1, If the question really deserves a "RTFM" then I wouldn't down vote an answer that includes it; I'd probably upvote it. If the question is decently written and reflects some general level of effort, then the "RTFM" is not appropriate.
    – Chris S
    Commented Oct 21, 2010 at 0:17
  • 1
    @Chris, that's really the key - the question has to at least look like the poster has shown some level of professionalism and made an attempt to look for the answer. If it's clearly spelled out in the docs they should have seen it. Commented Oct 21, 2010 at 8:40

I think your answer was acceptable. I disagree with Prix's comment. "RTFM" can stand for "Read The Fine Manual"...

  • When I am asked "what does RTFM mean?" I always define it using fine instead. If I am not asked for definition, then I intend the the other f-word is implied. :)
    – jscott
    Commented Oct 13, 2010 at 15:29
  • @jscott you mean Read The Famous Manual? :-)
    – Josh
    Commented Oct 14, 2010 at 0:18
  • read the friendly manual
    – Chris S
    Commented Oct 21, 2010 at 0:18

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