Why not point users in the right direction to learn how to solve problems by themselves in the future?

Is it because of rep system?


4 Answers 4


We do encourage users to read the manual and get information for the future.

We shouldn't force users to actually just read the documentation, as this isn't a forum. People ask questions, people get actual answers to their questions. We're also very much in the give-the-users-the-answers-they-need business, so we prioritize on that, and then link them over to the actual documentation so that they can learn more if they want.

For example:

You can fix this by doing xyz -ab -e 123. This will solve your problem because it invokes the power of the Unicorn. More info is available at man xyz.

Is considered a "good" answer because it actually answers the user's question, and additionally links them over to the documentation for them to read if they want to learn themselves.

Read man xyz and you'll see how it works

is not a good answer, because it just redirects the user to somewhere else. That somewhere else may not have good information (hence the link-only comments you may see on this site), and that information may change, or even worse, be irrelevant to the user's case itself.

  1. RTFM is rude.
  2. Lots of tools don't have manuals.
  3. Sometimes I want an answer to a one-off question.
  4. I'd rather have someone who has used the tool in real life explain something to me with the benefit of their experience than read a manual.
  5. Large portions of manuals are out of date, incomplete, or plain terrible, life's too short for me to waste my time on that when I can get an answer from SE in a few seconds.

I have written several answers that essentially quote sections of the relevant manual. From experience, I can say that this isn't always practical for the average user:

  • Manuals are usually very dense. They don't make for pleasant or quick reading for people who aren't used to it. Digging up the relevant bits is not an easy task.
  • Manuals sometimes lack good examples. Only people with experience can make good examples.
  • Sometimes the correct manual is not where you looked for it. Classic examples are the GNU tools, like bash, which have info pages that are usually much better than their manpages.
  • Sometimes, you don't even know which tool is being used, because the program was called by some other program. An example was someone asking about searching in manpages, which would be searching in less, but they didn't know man used a pager, let alone that the pager was less.

First, I encourage everybody to have good faith on your fellow AskUbuntian, unless you've seen something really unexplainable.

That said, most questions asked here are from new users who just need an answer to their query. They don't bother reading long manuals. They lack time for that. Plus traditionally Linux manuals are long and need some time to get acquainted with them reading and understanding.

If I find a questioner with serious lacking on the subject being asked, I try to explain first the topic in few lines if possible. But often I have skip if I feel a questioner is in hurry or won't bother reading the details.

And why answering without a reference would be particularly linked to rep system? Rather, answering with reference is more prone to get higher reputation point.

Moreover, answers written here are itself becoming a reference. Thanks to community-driven quality control system of StackExchange Network.

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