So People Don’t RTFM? Write a FM That’s Worth R’ing

-by Marcia Riefer Johnston (originally published on Feb 24, 2016 by

Long-time technical communicator Larry Kunz recently wrote an article — Rethinking RTFM — that, as Larry’s articles do, got me thinking. He’s the first person I’ve heard articulate feelings about this initialism with nuance and respect for all. Yes, RTFM (which, as you probably don’t need to be told, means “read the f*ing manual”) makes us smile. Yes, it captures the underappreciation that all technical communicators endure at one time or another. Yes, it makes for a punchy rallying cry.

At the same time, Larry points out, RTFM conveys a double whammy of negativity: self-pity coupled with disdain for customers. As I commented on Larry’s blog, I’ve been on both sides of TFM: the writing side and the reading side. (Let’s define TFM to be not just an old-fashioned manual but any form of user instruction.) In my opinion, a FM worth R’ing comes down to — this may sound odd — love.

Did the creator of TFM feel enough love for the product, and for the users of the product, to provide information that’s valuable?

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