RTFM. No seriously, R.T.F.M. Then ask your question.

There are several reasons why I’ve drastically cut back on the amount of time I spend in the various online SQL Server forums, including:

  1. People continuing to argue that the advice given to them is wrong (and I mean arguing even after me giving references suppporting the advice and explaining why my advice is correct)
  2. People asking questions that they could have found the answer to in Books Online or by Googling (yes, I prefer Google to Bing) a few keywords

#2 is mostly sheer laziness IMHO.

When Kimberly was on the SQL team at Microsoft many moons ago, she was famous for replying on a 2000-person internal alias (paraphrasing) “If it takes you more time to type this email and send it to the alias than it would to look up the answer in Books Online, you’re wasting 2000 people’s time”. She got 17 responses, 15 of which commended her. She has of course mellowed a little in her old age :-)

When one of my daughters comes to me saying they don’t understand how to do a math problem, I always ask them if they have read the instructions at the top of the page in their math workbook. Usually the answer is no, in which case I refuse to help until they’ve read the instructions, tried the problem again, and can explain what they think they’re supposed to do with the problem. The real world doesn’t have a friendly Dad there all the time to explain how to solve a problem.

There are good reasons why products come with manuals, including:

  • So that a company’s product support is not inundated with simple questions, saving the company money
  • So that people can easily figure out how to use the product’s functions without bashing their head against a wall in frustration
  • So that a company doesn’t get sued by failed Darwin Award candidates
    • E.g. “Do not operate the TreeMasher X3000 chainsaw with the diamond-tipped CutThroughAnything (TM) blade while drunk”
    • E.g. “Do not attempt to unclog your new in-sink Eviscerator (TM) waste disposal unit using your hands while it is running”
    • E.g. “Consuming excessive Jägermeister in Seattle will result in uncontrolled karaoke singing”

However, sometimes reading the manual does no good whatsoever. For example, on our recent European trip, we rented a BMW in Frankfurt for a couple of weeks of touring around. For the life of me I couldn’t figure out how to start the damn car. I tried looking in the manual, but it was in German, which neither of us understands. Eventually (after 15mins of increasing frustration) I figured out you have to press the start button while pressing the brake pedal. But that was my fault, not BMW’s – the manual did say how to do it, but I just couldn’t understand the manual.

Most of the time though, you can get a good idea of what you’re supposed to do by reading the manual. We’re currently writing the Denali JumpStart training material for Microsoft (like we’ve done since 2005 – see here for a description of the 2008 work). When we got hold of CTP-3 in early July we didn’t install the VMs we’d been given and then start randomly playing with stuff. We read BOL for the features we’re covering, and then started playing around. Why? So we didn’t waste time.

Books Online is pretty comprehensive in terms of syntax and in the last year or two their guidance and background explanations have improved and expanded immensely – kudos to the BOL team! So at least have a look in there first.

There’s a good reason why the website Let Me Google That For You exists – because people get annoyed when others ask questions for which the answer can easily be found. The LMGTFY tag line is “For all those people who find it more convenient to bother you with their question rather than google it for themselves.

Don’t get me wrong, I really like helping people out on twitter, forums, and over email (to a point) – but I get really terse really quickly if someone sends me a question for which the answer is in BOL or shows up near the top of a simple Google search (e.g. a recent email I got was “where can I get a description of the what the input parameters to sys.dm_db_index_physical_stats are?”). You’ll know if you’ve offended if my reply just contains a URL.

Bottom line: Don’t waste everyone’s time, including your own. Read The F-ing Manual. Search online. Do some due diligence. And then feel free to ask all the questions you want – we’d all love to help you. But only after you’ve invested a little time trying to help yourself first.


30 thoughts on “RTFM. No seriously, R.T.F.M. Then ask your question.

  1. Glad to see a blog entry like this. It’s gotten to the point that you have trouble getting help on forums too, because of the excessive fluff. I had to ask a question on Twitter about setting up Data Collection for remote servers. The BOL just didn’t have the answer for that unfortunately.

    Sometimes I think people do this so they can go get other problems done while everyone else starts sending solutions. The problem with this is the person having the issue doesn’t learn how to troubleshoot various problems, only to lead to more questions.

  2. Hi Paul

    I have done a lot of Goggling but I can’t find the manual for F-ing.
    Does it really have all the SQL Answers, and why isn’t it called The SQL Manual?

    The manual I did find had lots of interesting pictures – but they weren’t really work appropriate



  3. One related thing that’s been irritating me recently is when I reply to a forum post with an URL, could be a blog post, an article or BoL, and the person posts back with something that makes it crystal clear they haven’t bothered reading the article at all.

  4. I agree with everything in this post, but what’s wrong with arguing that the advice given to you was wrong? I mean, I can think of some erroneous, rude, and annoying ways of doing that, but I don’t see what’s wrong with it in itself.

  5. When you’re arguing with the person who wrote the code for the feature that the advice is based around… Kinda like arguing quantum mechanics with Steven Hawking.

  6. Well that makes sense then. It does seem like there are a lot of people on tech forums (and in my customer support queues :/ ) who ask for help but aren’t capable of receiving it…

  7. RTFM – the standard reply you get in Oracle forums. Do we really want to turn like that?
    No seriously, I always try to answer the question, even if it can be answered with RTFM. The answer can be just a URL, but IMHO it doesn’t have to be RTFM.
    At least "RTFM and come back if you have questions".
    Also, TFM is not always easy to read or find. I always try to point people to TFM so that they can R it.

    Just my two cents.

  8. Absolutely – I’d never say RTFM as an answer – not professional in the least. But I want people to RTFM before posting/asking questions, if possible.

  9. This is so true. I can’t begin to count the times I have had to tell junior engineers, developers, and even clients to tell me what they found in the BOL or Blogs before they came to me. I have to go back and review the basic troubleshooting process with them. I am not sure if it is pure laziness or they just never got the basics. Thanks for the post.

  10. James – I mean that I personally don’t do much on forums because people argue with advice I give them about problems that I know is correct. Arguing is ok, but even when I show them references or explain why the advice is correct? Not ok any more IMHO. It’s just not worth the exasperation.

  11. Article reminds me of my school teacher sayings "Have you done homework first"…..when I really haven’t….I now recall those simple words, they make so much relevance.
    Another great read Paul Randal…Thanks :-)

  12. What a perfect timing paul! Great read and another great Non-technical post!
    I’ve to agree, sometimes I’ll ask few questions(via e-mails) which really are very simple/basic to Geeks out there.(But, honestly I’ll google it a lot and refer BOL and then start my E-Mail with "I’ve a Stupid Question" if i feel so:)). But it really irritates when someone asks "Hey what is T-SQL syntax for taking Log Backup for replacing….Hey what does this Simple Recovery Model do really…Hey why i should not grant SA priv for my Developers on Production and most annoyingly claiming themselves as Senior DBAs"…Ughhhhh
    Another great post and Super liked it!!
    Personal Advice to all folks out there – Don’t argue with Paul on SQL Server Internals! especially on DBCC CHECKDB ;-)It would be Kinda like arguing quantum mechanics with Steven Hawking as Gail said:)

  13. Great read. I find myself muttering "did you research any of this before you reached out to me at 2 am?"
    One Of the best parts of being a DBA is being able to assist others with fun technical issues. Sometimes I find I have missed the mark and the end user is correct. Part of being a good DBA is knowing when you are wrong. I do not mind a good debate, but i find it completely frustrating when an individual wants to argue. If I encounter a thread ( even it is the best technical answer ever ) and it has arguments I usually "just walk away, just walk away".

    One again great read and great advice.

    Wow I need to create a gravatar this one makes me look angry.

  14. I totally agree with the sentiment. But humbly disagree with some of the examples.
    1. On kids. There is a balance on teaching them to learn for themselves vs building a relationship where they come to you for advise. Especially with maths I often cringe at the inefficient techniques they are being taught. So I prefer the oppurtunity to show my kids alternate approaches that are simpler to understand & easier to use.
    2. On Internet. The trick is to find quality answers. Any moron can voice an opinion & many have. eg: Recently a large web site stopped when their SQL LOG ran out of space. The most common solution they found via google was "Change the Recovery Mode from FULL to SIMPLE". Yes problem solved. But the root cause was not solved ie: "not doing log backups". And they didn’t realise they had created a much bigger issue, potential loss of one day of sales revenue.
    3. I’m big on RTFM. But acknowledge that many manuals could be improved, much s/w could be easier to use, inaccurate information is everywhere. And the complex interdependency of our s/w environments is growing. So often these "stupid questions" are hoping for an answer of "hang on, you aren’t even asking the correct question. Step back & look at it this way".

    In short: Yes there is such a thing as a stupid question. Be thankful there are people that are dumber than you. If not for them you’d be the dumbest person on the planet. :-)

  15. To Seth:
    The manual for F..ing, is called the Kama Sutra.
    It doesn’t seem to answer most SQL or IT questions. So I just assume that those that recommend I read it were concerned about my work / life balance.

  16. @David You put words in my mouth – I never said the questions were stupid – there’s no such thing as a stupid question. There are certainly questions from laziness though – which is the point of my post.

    My examples are from my experience, there’s nothing to disagree with there. Sometimes my girls don’t read the instructions for their homework, when they do they understand them – I hear what you’re saying but that is not the case with my example.


  17. @Paul:
    1. As I like the words that come out of your mouth. I’ll take that as a compliment :-)
    2. Asking a customs officer if the drugs you’ve stuffed into your bra make your breasts look abnormally huge. Has to come close to being a stupid queston.

  18. Most of the work I do is Oracle-based and instead of using multiple forums to get my answers, I use just one: AskTom. Why? Because the "advice" on so many forum sites is junk. Quite simply answers from people who aren’t sure themselves what the real question being asked is. Tom Kyte has been heavily involved with Oracle before it was even called Oracle, he knows his stuff and knows how to communicate it.

    I come to SQL Skills because I have witnessed not just same level of competence but also the same level of communicative ability that means that not only do I get my answer quickly, but I also understand that answer which is equally important.

    The point I am trying to make is that until you find the sites that fulfill your needs, you are going to rummage around the ether trying to sort the junk from the worthwhile and asking sometimes bone questions until you find your feet. I really don’t mind answering other peoples bone questions as long as they don’t ask the same bone question twice.

    Thanks for a great site Paul and Kimberley! Now the bone questions can stop!

  19. Truer words were never spoken. All of the more seasoned nerds (no noob has heard of the infamous Duo: Paul and slidemonkey Kim) gave had RTFM issues with beginning users. And Ole…. brilliant site, that lmgtfy.com, it will no be my standard answer for those kind of questions.

    But… I do wonder what the etymology of that acronym is? Is it something the BOFH came up with?

    ….nah…. or could he?…..

    Theo :)

  20. I love the question I saw BrentO receive!

    How can I copy a table and it’s data to another database? I lost it, I was almost ROFL!!

    1. I hope that person was NOT a DBA. I mean come on!!!
    2. If they were a DBA then maybe being a DBA is not for you.

    I really am not trying to mean here but really!! This is one of the easier tasks to accomplish (several different ways).
    They even said they RTFM’d (not buying it).

    Totally agree with Paul PURE laziness!!

  21. Well said! Doing a little work yourself means you’ve got some skin in the game. After I’m assured the requester is willing to put forth the effort, I’m happy to jump in and help.

  22. A solution that worked well for me was to create a "quick questions" area in a fourm I run. The idea was that these types of questions should be posted there (or moved there by helpful mods) and then those who that want to can easily ignore the forum area, and those that are willing to answer such questions, and often add some extra real world value that manuals can’t provide, are free to do so.

    I always giggle when someone posts a "RTFM" type response when it would have been quicker to have just answered the question. And then a helpful person will come along and add a good response with some helpful links and advice. The OP will thank them and tell them how great the help was and the "RTFM" guy ends up looking like a bit of a plonker!

    People will keep asking these questions and others will always answer them!

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