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Read the Freaking Manual

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"I think I know from where your problems stem.
Would you, could you, RTFM?"
The Internet Oracle

Simply, it's a "Tale From Customer Service": When assisting people with technological items, only about 1 out of 5 read the instructions for the item they've purchased. Fewer still read more than a page or two. Note that the trope title is a more polite version of the real phrase. Other versions are "Read the Friendly Manual", "Read the Foul Manual", "Read the Full Manual", and "Read the Fine Manual".

It's one that you've Seen A Million Times, especially in sitcoms: "I'm great with tools; I don't need to read the instructions." Or the manual is in an entirely different language, or it was written in English by someone who can barely say "I doesn't knows speaking English".

Be very careful when using this response in Real Life. Even if you mean it as an innocent suggestion, it carries an implied insult. There are plenty of people asking questions not because they're lazy, but because they don't have the manual. If they bought the product used or were given it as a hand-me-down, the manual was probably lost ages ago. Some products have even shipped without a manual, or with different manuals for different releases, some of which are incomplete.

Making matters worse, many items these days, particularly digital-only ones, are shipped without the manual expecting you to download from the company's site. A good manufacturer will post the manual for download on its website, with any updates and errata already applied, but not all manufacturers are good; moreover, depending on the age of the item, the manufacturer may not even exist anymore. Making the manual require a download also implies that the user has an internet connection, and depending on their living situation they may not even have internet access.

But even if the manual is available, that doesn't mean it's good, useful or even accurate, contrary to what many people seem to believe. For example, even though IKEA furniture is meant to be easy to assemble, you have to admit: because the pages are black-and-white 2D images, sometimes it's difficult to determine exactly what you're looking at and which slot you're supposed to insert the tab in. It's no coincidence that the company also provides video walkthroughs.

In video games, and sometimes other software, the manual may be of no help. For most games, the manual only tells you how to play the game, not how to beat it. (For that, see Guide Dang It!.) It won't tell you how to solve any puzzles unless it's some form of Copy Protection. Even worse, the manual might have been written for a pre-release version of the game, with details such as the control scheme differing subtly from the released version.

Sometimes the product is from a foreign market, in which case chances are the manual (along with the in-product text) might not be in languages the user understands (a common case being Westerners who import Japanese video games due to localizations taking a while, not existing, or being garbage), so Read The Freaking Manual would also mean (spend months, possibly years to) Learn The Freaking Language.

And finally, for the manufacturers themselves: Requiring people to read a manual is not only a possible indication of bad, unintuitive design, you're also decreasing your potential customer base and thus profits.

This can also lead to Misblamed, where people forget to read the credits of a work, or don't even look at the staff.

Compare All There in the Manual, when details to understand the plot of a work or even the whole plot are told in the manual or in other material. Compare also the Directionless Driver, who actively refuses to read a map, ask someone where a given road is (including the one they're on), or accept any kind of assistance whatsoever when it comes to getting where they're going.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • In Mobile Suit Gundam, Amuro Ray finds the Gundam's manual and literally has it open in his lap when he falls into the cockpit.
  • In the oddest usage of this trope, we turn to Smile Pretty Cure!. An accident turns Cure Happy into a Super Robot and, to get her to fight, one of the other Cures has to pilot her. The one to do so? Cure Beauty, who isn't even familiar with the concept of Giant Mecha and is only able to pilot and effectively win the day because resident Mecha-fangirl Yayoi handed her the manual earlier on.
  • Girls und Panzer:
    • Mako claims that her driving skills came just from reading the tank's operating manual. She tries to instruct some of the drivers for Oarai's other tanks, but they point out how ridiculous it is and aren't able to drive the tanks without extensive practice.
    • Before Mako joined the team, the Freshman Team was trying to figure out how to drive their M3 Lee. When they decided to ask people online, "just read the manual" was one of the responses.
  • Haseo in .hack//Roots stubbornly refuses to read the manual for The World: R2 for no real reason at all. Phyllo, (after politely suggesting multiple times that read it) eventually gets fed up, and recites this line almost word-for-word right in his face.
  • Intentionally invoked in Ah! My Goddess. During the "Lord Of Terror" arc, Gadgeteer Genius Skuld releases Eldritch Abomination Midgard the Serpent to stop Fenrir from destroying the world, but then Midgard goes berserk. When the others confront her about it, she proudly states that she never reads the manual. Said manual anticipates everything that had happened in the fight up to that point and gave specific instructions for how to stop the Ultimate Destruction Program.
  • At one point in Excel♡Saga, Excel and Hyatt take a job in an electronics store. Eventually, Excel is put on tech support, whereupon taking her first call she slowly comes to realize the caller did not read the f-ing manual. From that point on, she answers every single call with "Read the manual!" and then immediately hangs up.
  • Yugi in Yu-Gi-Oh!, durring the Dungeon Dice Monsters arc, initially struggles with the titular game since he's just a beginner who's having the rules explained as he goes, while his opponent Duke is the game's creator. Eventually, Yugi decides to consult the game's help screen, which gives him enough information to start making a comeback and eventually win.
  • AnimEigo used this verbatim as its Spoof Aesop for Metal Skin Panic MADOX 01.

    Comic Books 

    Comic Strips 
  • Dilbert:
    • In a Dilbert strip, Dogbert is working tech support and receives a call from a guy asking how to make a pie chart. Dogbert orders the guy to hack the computer into tiny pieces, mix them with flour and water and bake the mix in the oven. Dogbert then suggested that while the caller waited, he could read "the novel included with [his] software. It is the story of a Spaniard named 'Manual'." The caller then remarks how the book "lost a lot in the translation."
    • In another strip, he tells a caller, "Take all the parts and arrange them in neat piles. Now stand on your chair so you can see above your cubicle wall... Now shout, 'Does anybody know how to read a manual?'" That was popular with tech support workers.
    • From another perspective, someone talks about the manual and says that "You must really hate your customers", describing how poorly-written the manual was.
    • After Tina the Tech Writer became a recurring character, it became a recurring gag that most of the company's manuals were complete fiction because the boss made her write them so early in the development process that she was guessing randomly. Plus nobody wants to work with her thanks to her constant drama.
  • Calvin and Hobbes:
    • In Calvin and Hobbes, there's a strip where the two try to put together a model airplane. They (or, at least Calvin) ignore the instructions completely and end up with the newspaper glued to the floor, and a wrecked airplane.
    • However, one strip within the former story has Hobbes surprised because the instructions apparently start in English, but then go into Spanish and French. This is probably meant to be interpreted as Hobbes having misunderstood that the manual was written in all three languages for the benefit of non-English speakers.
    • In a Sunday strip, said airplane was, "hit by anti-aircraft guns," to which Hobbes replies, "Your planes seem to encounter a lot of those."
  • In Janes World, she says she can't live in a dumpy rental trailer with her friend, explaining that it says so in the Gay and Lesbian Handbook, which she has in the Jeep she bought (it was tucked under the owner's manual). Her friends, a couple of straight guys, leaf through it, muttering "so that's how that's" before she peevishly pulls it away.

  • This almost used by name on two separate occasions in "Super Calvin", an episode of Calvin & Hobbes: The Series:
    "He/I should have read the manul [sic]."
    • This also sets up a Brick Joke: after Calvin stops making the machine that sets up the plot, Dr. Brainstorm barges in:
      "Alright, Calvin! I've gone over that manul [sic], and now I'm all ready for you and your precious little powers! GIVE ME YOUR WORST!"
  • In Off the Line, Cait Sith implies that Cloud should have looked at his character's equipment customization when he finds out that equipment becomes skimpy as a side-effect of being a Viera.
  • In Souls Art Online, the players have to make a manual for themselves because the game doesn't come with one. However, they strongly recommend reading it because when someone doesn't then they make a mistake of challenging Kingseeker, who is more than willing to respond.
  • This is Palpatine's downfall in the aptly named Shoulda Kept the Manual: having thrown away the manual containing all the Contingency Orders for the Grand Army of the Republic, Palpatine had nothing to check when he forgot what was the one to kill the Jedi and ended up issuing Order 65. Knowing the ordernote , you can imagine how it ended when the (very confused) 501st Legion decided to execute it even if it hadn't been issued by the proper authority.
  • A mass example happens in the Miraculous Ladybug fanfic A Different Type of Inspiration: when holding a fashion design contest hoping to put into production the winning design, Gabriel specified he wanted nontypical fabrics... And found that over half the designs were made with newspapers, wallpaper and plastic because most contestants apparently missed the fact he did want to see unconventional fabrics. Said designers found out they weren't even in the running when an increasingly grouchy Gabriel Agreste verbally tore into them.
    • Averted by Marinette, who not only was Genre Savvy enough to get her unusual fabrics in an actual fabric store but called the Gabriel designer who had been assigned to answer questions on the contest to get her fabrics (leather-like cork, nylon and plastic mesh) approved, and when Agreste inspected her design and gave her some suggestions she wrote them down less she forgot them and got in trouble the next contest because by then she should have known better (exactly why Agreste gave her the suggestions: to not have to tear her apart when she's more experienced). By the way, she won, as not only she had read the instructions but had a rather interesting design.
  • This is Gosunkugi's biggest error in Imperial Servant, and the one who gets him classified as Too Dumb to Live and Lethally Stupid at once: when reading the manual on how to summon demons he flat-out skipped the first half-a-dozen chapters under the impression they were for those who want to become exorcists. Instead they contained how to make a banishing anchor, that is the safety on how to banish the summoned demon at a moment's notice in case it started going out of control, and one is supposed to be proficient in that before they even try to actually summon a demon - something even Kuno knows. Thankfully, rather than getting anything dangerous he only summoned a succubus who, upon learning how the things around Nerima were, just wanted to go away, thus when she learns his various errors combine in getting her stuck there the only one he endangered is himself.
  • Mixed with a little Surprisingly Realistic Outcome in the Code Geass fanfic Code Geass: The Prepared Rebellion; no one, not even prodigies like Suzaku or Kallen are allowed anywhere near their multi-million insert currency here Knightmare Frames unless they read the operator's manuals.

    Film — Animated 

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Die Another Day. When Q gives James Bond the Doorstopper manual for his latest gadget car, Bond tosses it in front of the vehicle's automatic shotguns which promptly blast the manual to shreds. This doesn't affect Bond's ability to use the car later on (though given his photographic memory he probably read the manual while the car was being developed).
    Q: "Here's the manual, should be able to shoot through that in a couple of hours."
    Bond: "Just took a few seconds, Q."
  • In Commando, Cindy successfully uses a rocket launcher (to hit the wheel of a moving truck no less) despite having absolutely no military training. When Matrix asks how she did it she just says she read the instructions. This in spite of initially holding the rocket launcher backwards.
  • The Maitlands in Beetlejuice are given a "Handbook for the Recently Deceased" when they die. Adam tries to read through it but can't comprehend it. Every time they run into trouble they're admonished that the Handbook contains everything they need to know. Other ghosts scoff at them for their inexperienced mistakes.
  • Larry from Night at the Museum tries to read the directions, but they're quickly destroyed and there are no other copies. Luckily, studying the various exhibits teaches him enough to get by.
  • The Fifth Element
    • There is a scene with a bunch of Always Chaotic Evil mooks "trading" for a crate of super smart guns with dozens of different modes. They don't think to ask what all the modes in question are and decide to find out by just randomly pressing buttons. If they'd RTFM they'd have discovered that one of the little red buttons was in fact the self-destruct...
    • This is lampshaded later on in the movie. When the good guys are trying to figure out how to get the weapon against the Ultimate Evil to work, Korben says "Every weapon comes with a manual. This one must, too." The "manual", in this case, turns out to be somewhat unhelpful hints from Leeloo.
  • Gravity. The female protagonist consults a manual when trying to work out how to operate the Soyuz capsule. Fortunately, the Russian manual has an English translation, as it's part of the International Space Station. Later she boards another space station, but the buttons are all labelled in Chinese characters. Oh, Crap!.note 
  • The climactic sequence of xXx has Xander Cage driving a gadget-laden muscle car in pursuit of a submersible filled with deadly nerve gas, while his Bond Girl Expy searches through the car's handwritten, barely legible instruction manual for something they can use against it.
  • The Dark Knight: Lucius Fox is showing Bruce the latest batsuit, Bruce is examining the gauntlets when he unexpectedly launches the blades in them across the room. Fox is quick to chastise him "Perhaps you should read the instructions first?" to which Bruce replies with a sheepish "Yeah". Doubles as a Chekhov's Gun, when he uses it to defeat the Joker at the end.
  • Inverted on Silent Running: Freeman reads the manual on how to program the Valley Forge's onboard robots before working on the instructions they will need to follow in order to help him with Self-Surgery on his leg (especially because, in order to reprogram the robots, he has to solder completely new logic boards by hand).
  • Doctor Strange (2016). Doctor Strange sneaks into Kamar-Taj's library to peek at a Tome of Eldritch Lore and attempt a Dangerous Forbidden Technique involving the manipulation of time. After getting caught and given a What the Hell, Hero? by Wong and Mordo about the possible consequences, Strange can only mutter sulkily that the book should have stated that before the instructions. This turns out to be a Chekhov's Gun later on when it turns out that the villains (who were messing around with the same spells) didn't read that section of the manual either.
  • The 2009 Russian superhero film Black Lightning involves a prototype Flying Car from the Cold War being bequeathed to a young man on his birthday. He obviously thinks that the old Volga that the flying equipment was built on is "What a Piece of Junk"... until he reads the freaking manual. And because he reads the freaking manual (plus having more experience in using the flying controls) he's able to save the day when the Corrupt Corporate Executive Big Bad comes gunning for him using an upgraded, armed version of the project.
  • In Me, Myself & Irene, when Charlie's sons steal the helicopter, the son flying the plane is confident enough in his knowledge of flight mechanics to be able to fly the helicopter, but he has no idea of how to start since the helicopter's flight manual is in German, which he can speak but not read. Cue one of his brothers grabbing the manual and reading the instructions aloud while dropping f-bombs the entire time.
  • In Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (2022), Agent Stone is having trouble operating the weapon systems of the Death Egg Robot at first, to which Doctor Robotnik instructs him to read the manual. Later in the fight, after the Robot shoots down Tails' Tornado using the "'Stache Smasher", Robotnik asks how he did that and Stone refers to the aforementioned manual. Bonus points for the manual in question looking like one for the Sega Genesis.

  • In the Men in Black novel The Green Saliva Blues, "Jay" refuses to RTFM. Any FM, whether it be on the customs and etiquette of the species they plan to contact or a weapons manual. "Elle", who has read the freaking manual, shows him how to use the Noisy Cricket without the recoil. A probable parody, as it is lampshaded that she only knew this information from the manual, the manual was written in an alien language, and it would have shattered her wrist and probably shoulder had she been at all wrong.
  • The War Against the Chtorr. The protagonist references this trope when teaching himself how to shoot a laser-sighted flechette rifle. It's just as well he does too, as the people who issued him the rifle are setting him up to be killed, thinking he won't know how to use it properly. In later books, the protagonist has become an expert on Chtorrans, and so gets annoyed if the people he's saddled with haven't read the briefing books.
  • A short story in the Bolo universe, "Operation Desert Fox" by Mercedes Lackey and Larry Dixon, details the posting of a "Desert Fox" history buff assigned to crew a Bolo called Rommel, who is similarly obsessed. After going on drills and such in their sleepy backwater planet, it is attacked by squads of AI-controlled mecha which Rommel manages to take control of. One problem — they can't control enough of the squads to win without sacrificing the tank's personality. The commander goes digging into the tank's manual, finding an untested "full backup" function. After they win and the commander gives the "restore" command, he falls asleep from exhaustion. He is woken by the tank calling his attention to the jubilant villagers outside, then asking how he managed to save the tank:
    He held up the manual, laughing, and cried out the famous quote:
    "Rommel, you magnificent bastard, I read your book!"
  • Isaac Asimov wrote a short story where two guys are testing a Deflector Shields equipped ship on a test flight which takes them on a fly-by right next to the Sun. The shields work so well they almost freeze to death. They come to their boss, intent on beating him up for sending them on that trip... only to be informed that the manuals (which they naturally threw away without reading) contained instructions on adjusting the shield intensity so that a controlled amount of solar heat could reach the ship.
  • In Otherland Jongleur is annoyed at having to explain their own Evil Plan to one of his co-conspirators due to his chronic failure to do this, and when the man expresses concerns that their scheme to become immortal via Brain Uploading will fail because they can't upload the soul, he curtly tells him he should have been spending his money on something else if that's a concern to him. Indeed, after investing billions of dollars in illegal research and development, it's a bit late to be questioning the fundamental mechanism everything else was based on.
  • It's a Running Gag in the City Watch Discworld novels that Sam Vimes never reads the manuals of the imp-powered organisers Lady Sybil keeps buying him, resulting in mutual exasperation; Vimes gets annoyed that the imp isn't doing what he wants (which is usually just being quiet) and the imp gets annoyed that Vimes can't be bothered to find out how to tell it what he wants.
  • In The Witches of Karres, space trader Pausert's troubles begin when he rescues three children from slavery and takes them back to their home planet of Karres. When he returns to his own home planet, he finds that he's now considered a criminal for breaking a strong prohibition against having any dealings with Karres; when he protests that he was unaware of the prohibition, it's pointed out that the prohibition was clearly stated in the enormous manual of procedures he was given when he registered as a space trader, and which he's never bothered to read.
  • Bruce Coville's Book of... Magic: The protagonist of Watch Out! (part of Coville's Magic Shop series) didn't read the full manual for his latest trick (in part because his mother interrupted him before he could finish), a cave-like toy which makes things disappear (but cannot return them), which gets him in trouble when he makes his father's watch disappear and can't get it back. The gnome that the "disappearing" objects are sent to notes that nine out of ten people who use it are the same way.
  • Star Trek: Ex Machina: Spock resolves the crisis by finding the user manual for an ancient supercomputer, which has been reprogrammed more than once already. The manual is in surprisingly good condition, even after several thousand years. All the more ironic given it was meant to be a back-up.
  • Captain Underpants: George and Harold misplace the manual to the 3D Hypno-Ring, so they don't know how to dehypnotize Mr. Krupp. They end up dumping water on his head. At the end of the book, they find the manual and throw it away, since they figure they'll never need it again. As it's going into the trash can, the reader sees that it warns against doing exactly what they just did with the water, since this will make Mr. Krupp turn back into Captain Underpants whenever he hears a finger snap.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In The Amazing Race, many teams have been eliminated because they misread a clue, or didn't notice that all they needed to know was right there. Frequently overlaps with Failed a Spot Check.
  • In the Babylon 5 episode "Eyes", Garibaldi has the parts to a Kawasaki Ninja ZX motorcycle and is trying to put them together. Good news, Garibaldi has a manual for it. Better news, he's actually trying to read it. Bad news... it's in Japanese, which Garibaldi doesn't understand.
    • Considering Garibaldi eventually learns Narn in order to read the Book of G'Quan (all Narn holy texts must be reproduced exactly; no translations are allowed), he shouldn't have as much trouble with a human language. Then again, what we see of the Narn alphabet suggests it might actually be closer to the English alphabet, in that it's based on letters rather than logographic characters, which might have worked in Garibaldi's favor there.
  • Subverted in Blackadder. It's no good reading the manual moments before a Duel to the Death with cannons.
    Blackadder: (reading) Congratulations on choosing the Armstrong Whitworth four-pounder cannonette. Please read the instructions carefully and it should give years of trouble-free maiming.
  • Inverted in Bottom when they get a VCR and Eddie carefully reads the instructions...starting from the German section. It takes him an entire year to set it up.
  • Catchphrase of Canada's Worst Handyman. The host-specific states the Achilles heel of a bad handyman is failing to take some time to read instructions.
  • Doctor Who:
    • In the original series, in one episode, the Fourth Doctor sees Romana reading it (something he notes that he himself had never once done in more than 500 years of using that particular TARDIS), and when she suggests a control that she notices to be essential in operating the TARDIS (and one that the Doctor has heretofore never used), he says "Hmm... Interesting," and then proceeds to rip the page out of the manual and throw it away.
    • In the midst of one of his sulks, the Sixth Doctor said that he tried reading the manual once. He obviously didn't get very far.
    • According to River, refusing to read the manual is part of the reason why TARDIS makes the iconic Vworp noise when it dematerialises. The Doctor forgets to turn the brakes off, so when this is pointed out to him, he claims that it's actually because he refuses to do so, as he loves the noise. Word of God is that River was just teasing the Doctor (why else would every other TARDIS make that same noise?) and it's the normal sound of the engines. There is a mute button, though, of which the Doctor was never aware.
    • The Eighth Doctor claimed there was a volume 21... to the quick start guide.
    • "The Doctor's Wife": Played for laughs when Idris (an avatar of the TARDIS) gets angry at the Doctor for (among other transgressions) not reading the instructions. Turns out she's referring to the sign on the TARDIS door saying Pull to Open. The Doctor always pushes.
    • As pointed out above, this basically turned into a minor Running Gag during Matt Smith's run, complete with Lampshade Hanging.
      Amy: Shall I fetch the instruction manual?
      The Doctor: I threw it into a supernova.
      Amy: You threw it into a supernova. Why?
      The Doctor: Because I disagreed with it!
    • Clara Oswald's TARDIS still has its manual, which helps explain how she can fly the thing without centuries of experience. Still can't fix a glitchy chameleon circuit, though.
    • In Part One of "Spyfall", Ryan and Graham eagerly help themselves to the spy gadgets provided by MI6. In "Part Two" they're asked why they didn't use them to get out of last week's cliffhanger, and admit they never bothered to read the instructions.
  • In the Swedish comedy series En ängels tålamod, one of the characters is a devil living on Earth with a mission to cause sin and misery. His mortal day job is writing instruction manuals, making them as obtuse as possible...
  • The main character of The Greatest American Hero loses the manual for the super suit at the start of the series, so has to learn how to use it by trial and error. Hilarity Ensues. At the start of the third season, he is given another copy of the manual, and immediately loses that one, too.
  • Tim Taylor of Home Improvement could be the poster boy for Did Not Read the Manual. In one episode, Tim doesn't think he needs to read the instructions for his new entertainment system because "this is just the manufacturer's opinion of how to put this together." Hilarity Ensues.
  • In Kamen Rider OOO, Akira Date didn't bother reading the manual for the Kamen Rider Birth suit because he has a "learn through experience" attitude (and is a debatable Expy of the MCU version of Tony Stark). His protegee Shintaro Gotou, who eventually becomes the second Birth, did read the manual and thus knows about suit functions that Date never used... as well as the Self-Destruct Mechanism its inventor installed, which Gotou had the foresight to remove after said inventor turned evil.
  • Kamen Rider Zero-One has one and a half instance of this.
    • First we have Aruto Hiden, the titular Kamen Rider Zero-One himself, who could have read the manual of Hiden Zero-One Driver at super computer speed within Zea, but due to the urgency of the situation he opted to just take the quick-start tutorial instead, which goes smooth... Until he botches up the landing after the Rising Impact.
    • Next we have Fuwa Isamu, Kamen Rider Vulcan, who demanded Yua Yaiba to authorize him to become a Kamen Rider, yet she only refused to. Then he forcefully breaks the lock himself every single time. Cut to the point when Yua becomes Kamen Rider Valkyrie and the authorization mechanism is revealed to be simple: just insert the Progrise Key in the shotriser for it to unlock. Even after that, Fuwa still forces it.
  • In Man Stroke Woman a recurring sketch is of a man who refuses to read instructions his wife offers him. This always ends in something quite bizarre happening, such as their dog exploding because he was given the wrong food.
  • In Married... with Children, Al spent an entire episode trying to construct a carpentry workbench, but proves ridiculously inept at it as a result of his apparent inability to follow the instructions in the manual provided. In a Throw the Dog a Bone moment, his daughter Kelly (who had been flanderized over time to be the resident moron) not only fixes the bench and makes it look exactly like it should, she does so in seconds.
  • In one episode of NewsRadio, Mr. James tests his new shredder by shredding the instructions. ("Talk about your mind-blowing irony!") He then wonders how to change the speed settings.
  • In the Star Trek: Enterprise episode "Doctor's Orders", the ship's doctor is the only crewman who isn't incapacitated by the Negative Space Wedgie of the week, and has to emergency start the warp engines to escape it. The poor man practically wails this trope aloud before diving into the impenetrable block of Technobabble.
  • Supernatural. In "Everybody Hates Hitler", Aaron Bass, a secular Jew, finds himself Kid with the Leash of a golem. His grandfather gave him a book on how to control it, but unfortunately Aaron didn't take it seriously and used the pages to roll his joints in college.
  • Warehouse 13 has Myka saying this to Pete often enough. The series finale can't help but make you sympathize with him — the manual is an entire library of books.
  • In The Young Ones episode Nasty, Vyvyan and Mike are trying to set up their new VHS player and after a discussion about why it isn't working, It turns out that Vyvyan has been reading the manual for a toaster by mistake and (despite making some toast with the VHS player) it still fails to work.
    Mike: Maybe you shouldn't have poured all of that washing-up liquid in it.
    Vyvyan: But it says here, Michael, look, ‘Ensure machine is clean, and free from dust’!
    Mike: Yeah, but it don’t say, ‘Ensure the machine is full of washing-up liquid.’
    Vyvyan: Yeah, but it don’t say, ‘Ensure the machine isn’t full of washing-up liquid.’
    Mike: Of course not, I mean, it doesn’t say, ‘Ensure you don’t chop up your video machine with an axe, put all the bits in a plastic bag, and bung ‘em down the lavatory’!
    Vyvyan: Doesn’t it? Well, maybe that’s where we’re going wrong!
    • The problem:
      Neil: Well, it’s not plugged in.

    Mythology and Religion 
  • The Bible:
    • King Uzziah seemed to be a good man, he really wanted to give thanks to God but he did so in a way that brought God's wrath. The priests tried to tell him he should read the instructions because he was in the wrong but he refused and got an infectious skin disease for it. It's telling that the Kings of Judah were not only required to read the Torah but to make their own personal copy, making this more a case of Ignored The Freaking Manual.
    • In II Kings 22, Hilkiah the High Priest finds the Book of the Law and informs King Josiah. Josiah laments that the Law has not been kept, and it's implied that the Book of the Law hasn't been read for a very long time. In Chapter 23, Josiah calls the people together and they publicly do what this trope suggests. Then Josiah orders the people to keep the Passover, which they would have known to do all along had they been reading the Book. The Biblical text tells us that the Passover hadn't been kept in this way "since the days of the judges who judged Israel, or during all the days of the kings of Israel or of the kings of Judah" (II Kings 23:22), which amounts to a period of a few hundred years at the very least.

  • The Ballad of Edgardo: Zig-Zagged. The player of the eponymous Edgardo fails to thoroughly read the character creation rules. He makes a brawler (fists do effectively zilch for damage) and also takes the Perk "Overflowing Spirit," which removes the Spirit (mana) cap and does "some other stuff" that he skimmed over without paying much attention. Said "other stuff" turns out to be locking the character out of using any elemental attacks, leaving them stuck with the Non-Elemental Raw Spirit, which does far less damage-per-Spirit-spent but cannot be resisted. Much later, Edgardo's player combs over the game's lore desperate to find something to help him un-screw himself and stumbles upon the city of Haven, home of the Spirit Well. While in Haven, a character's Spirit automatically recharges "up to the cap." Edgardo doesn't have a cap. Two instances of not reading the manual plus one of very carefully reading the manual equals Game-Breaker.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Checkers: Many players at the popular level do not follow the rule that forces players to take a jump if they are able to.
  • Monopoly: Often played incorrectly (at least at the popular level) due to not following this trope's advice. Some examples:
    • If a player opts not purchase a property after landing on it, the official rules state that the property goes up for auction so that anyone can purchase it.
    • In the official Monopoly rules, there is no monetary award for landing on Free Parking, despite popular belief otherwise.
    • Some may not know that selling "Get Out of Jail Free" cards is also allowed.
  • Paranoia.
    • A standard joke in the game is for players to receive a highly-advanced weapon that is dangerous or unusable without proper training, but the user's manual that comes with it is either heavily redacted or completely above the characters' security clearance, making it a crime to read it.
    • Played with in a meta sense as well: the game manual expressly forbids players from reading the actual rules section, but also admits that it would be entirely in the spirit of the game for players to read the rules and then deny it. By the same token, the GM can accuse and punish players for doing so without proof.
  • In one Technical Readout for BattleTech, the Black Knight Battlemech is noted in-universe as a failure by its manufacturer to leave well enough alone to the point that it's a Running Gag with mechwarriors that in order to figure out what version of the mech you've got, you need to check the manual- there are 14 non-unique configurations of the mech (plus several additional unique ones), and unlike most mechs with that many configurations they all revolve around the same basic design philosophy of taking a few long-range energy weapons and backing them up with an array of short-range energy weapons.
  • Magic: The Gathering has an equivalent saying: "Read the Freaking Card", and the more professional translation "Reading the card explains the card"

    Video Games 
  • In Hotel Mario, Mario and Luigi specifically tell you to "check out the enclosed instruction book" if you need any help (and even pauses itself mid-cutscene to allow the player time to go and locate it). You probably do, because the CD-I is mind-numbingly hard to control.
  • Chris Bores, The Irate Gamer, was in such a rush to play Contra that he refused to read the instruction manual for the storyline, so he believes the game takes place in a straight modern war setting in the likes of Rambo. He is then caught by surprise once the aliens start showing up later in the game.
  • In Ōkami, one of the most common brushstrokes (the Power Slash) is a simple straight line, which can be hard to pull off with a control stick or the Wii Remote. It can be simply and easily overcome by pressing another button, which allows you to paint straight lines. This is mentioned multiple times in both manuals, but some people have played the game numerous times without ever knowing this. All the techniques are also described down to the smallest detail in a section on the pause menu.
  • Ōkamiden prevents this issue. In a more positive example of Viewers Are Morons, whenever you get a new brush technique you are taken to the pause menu to read up on it. This is vital for the Magnetism technique, as there are two ways to draw it that do slightly different things (one attracts, the other repels), and the obligatory tutorial was extremely vague on how the effects were different. Understanding these differences is vital.
  • Speaking of GameFAQs, many a player of Final Fantasy XII has found one of their characters permanently Silenced or permanently at 0 MP, with nothing they try to do fixing the condition, and ventured to the GameFAQs message boards for help. Many an exasperated user has told them to look at the dang description of their equipped accessory, as there are three story items that dampen or absorb magic and can also be equipped as accessories to dampen or absorb magic, and their descriptions when you go to equip them clearly say that in addition to a massive boost to Magic Defense or immunity to all elemental attacks, you are also Silenced or have your MP dropped to 0 while it is equipped. The threads of clueless players who apparently equip stuff without looking at what it does got so frequent that a stickied thread that specifically addresses this issue right in the title had to be made, which made such threads less frequent and eventually stopped them altogether. .....Until The Zodiac Age came out, and the "Why am I always Silenced/at 0 MP?" threads returned on the new boards for each platform's release of the game.
  • MechCommander features the ability to target specific points for massive damage on enemies, possibly the most useful ability in the game. It's not mentioned anywhere in-game and only mentioned on one page of the manual. Most GameFAQs assumed that people without the manual were playing pirated versions of the game and refused to relist the command, saying RTFM!
  • The most commonly asked questions about City of Heroes Valentine's Day missions is "How do I destroy the Cauldron/Girdle?", despite the fact that the contact specifically tells you that you must get someone from the opposite side to do it for you.
  • Also the endless questions in World of Warcraft about how to do a quest when the quest description clearly states exactly what they need to do. Incredibly common in the Death Knight starting quests. Though occasionally, the quest text won't be of any help, such as in the infamous quest to find Mankrik's wife in the Barrens.
    • This will also happen quite often in cities, with people asking where certain NPCs and services are. You can find all of that info by asking a guard in the city, of which there are several dozen.
  • In Mass Effect, either Ashley or Kaidan can drop the line "Always a good idea to RTFM, ma'am," in a moment of snark during the Noveria mission after Liara says it would be a good idea to look for directions before touching anything.
  • The One Must Fall 2097 manual thanks those who have decided to read it before installing/playing the game and chastises those who have not.
  • In F.E.A.R. the character Norton Mapes, a computer worker you have to rescue, has a belt buckle that reads "RTFM".
  • In NetHack, this is yet another thing the Dev Team thought of. From their Windows binary download page:
    Step 0: Promise to read Step 2 before telling us the game will not start.
    Thank you.
  • The manual for The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall is based on an alpha version of the game and incorrectly describes the game in numerous places. Some of the more startling examples are that the manual tells you that you can drop gold in your wagon (dropped gold is lost for good), it lists skills which don't exist ("Climate Survival", "Acute Hearing"), has a section about climbing ropes (there are no ropes in the game), it incorrectly classes weapons as being one or two-handed when they are actually the opposite (like the battleaxe), and it even incorrectly lists the key mapped to casting spells. These examples just scratch the surface...
  • The third installment of Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness references and parodies this with an attack that Tycho can learn that is titled "RTFM", in which he basically throws a book at an enemy. This is later upgraded to "RTMFM" which doesn't cost MP to cast, and both of these attacks share the same sprite as Tycho's ultimate attack, the 4MP "Master's Thesis".
  • Dynasty Warriors Online suffers from this. Most people assume it's just like normal Dynasty Warriors (though they're not too far off) and will blaze through the first tutorial. Doing this prevents people from going through the flasking tutorial, which teaches players how to upgrade stats in battle. It doesn't help that everyone insists on recreating your character until you S rank the first mission.
  • The General Owner Intro for Penn and Teller's Smoke and Mirrors stresses that the game's how-to modes are not a substitute for the instruction manual.
  • The manual for Resonance of Fate is accurate, but poorly organized. It's not a problem for the most part, the in-game tutorials and control references pick up the slack. Except for telling you to use the right stick to move the gun base around on the attachments menu, that is. This is critical to getting all your attachments right but isn't even alluded to in-game, and only referenced once in the manual, as a single-sentence afterthought at the end of a paragraph.
  • The Might and Magic VI manual contains several letters written by the king to his wife, one of which tells them where the "Third Eye" is located. However, there's nothing in-game to tell the player where this item is located. So if you don't read the manual you can't complete the game without searching everywhere after getting the quest to find the "Third Eye" (this item doesn't appear before this quest is triggered).
  • Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine has a background scene where Guardsmen are trying to fix their Basilisk, and one tells the other to pass him the manual.
    We're stuck on a bloody Forge World, and not a Tech-Priest in sight!
  • In Company of Heroes gives us this hilarious inversion.
    I KNOW it's technically impossible to shoot a Panzerschreck from an enclosed position. DON'T READ THE FUCKING MANUAL NEXT TIME, and you wouldn't care so much!
  • At the beginning of Zoda's Revenge, the main character directly asks the player if you remember his Uncle and the general events from the previous game in the series, Startropics. If you reply no, Mike says "Oh... well maybe you should read the instructions."
    • Startropics itself, meanwhile, plays with this trope: Inside the manual is a slip of paper that, when dunked in water, reveals a password required to get past a certain point in the game. This would become a problem for people who threw away the manual or obtained it secondhand (or through pirated means) which won't have the manual. When Startropics was added to the Wii's Virtual Console, the digital manual has a virtual version of this slip of paper to allow the player to advance without having to turn to outside help.
  • Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes is an entire game based around this trope. The game involves one person having to go through a highly technical and complicated manual (with its own website, even) and having to give directions to the person in-game, who is attempting to disarm complicated bombs. The difficulty relies on the fact that it's up to the reader to make sense of the manual, understand the various components and give clear directions to the defuser within the 5-minute time limit.
  • pannenkoek2012's memetic Super Mario 64 video of collecting Watch for Rolling Rocks in 0.5 A presses opens with an explanation of what exactly "half" a button press means (short version: it's the second half), somewhat exasperatedly pointing out that he always gets comments about that, despite having a full explanation of the concept in the description of every video that relies on it.
  • TIS-100 is a game about writing in mock assembly language, and has an extensive manual in the style of a hand-me-down user guide for the machine you're working with. You will need to have this on hand if you want to progress since there's no proper tutorial or explanation in the game at all. Having to read the manual is even listed as a selling point.
    • Shenzen I/O is much the same, using a similar faux-assembly to TIS-100. It also has an extensive manual explaining the language, and the microchips you'll be writing the code onto, that you are expected to keep on hand and encouraged to print out and stick in a binder. One of your co-workers even sends you an e-mail before you can do your first assignment simply telling you that you should be reading that manual. Although there is some slight guidance given in-game, like the first assignment having some lines of code written by the last person that was in your position, who quit after struggling due to refusing to read said manual.
  • Aside from a few Guide Dang It! moments, Final Fantasy XIV goes out of its way to explain everything to you from what your skill does to what a status effect does. Despite the game holding your hand, there's a high number of players that, despite reaching the level cap, still have no idea what some of their skills do that they learned at low levels or how players can easily die if they are not cured of poison or the like simply because they never read what was given to them. This frustrates experienced players to no end.
  • In Super Mario Galaxy, the Long Jump is a technique not mentioned in-game at all but is in the manual. Downplayed in that it is not required to complete the game, but it does make the game easier and faster. Naturally, many people playing this game went through it without ever knowing the Long Jump exists. Come Super Mario Galaxy 2, and there is a point early into the Supermassive Galaxy that requires the Long Jump—despite there being a tutorial nearby that introduces the move, many people got stuck there not knowing Mario has a jump that allows him to cross the gap with ease. People who put up footage of the Mario Galaxy games onto YouTube in which they use the Long Jump are often accused as cheaters or hackers—such people making these comments can't even recognize that they're seeing a different technique than the standard jump!
  • Many people who play Super Princess Peach aren't aware that rescuing Toads is not a Collection Sidequest, leading to a rude awakening upon learning that they can't access the final boss until they save all the Toads. While this isn't stated in-game until you reach the final boss's level, the enclosed instruction booklet openly states that "If you don't save all the Toads, you won't be able to get to Bowser's Castle" on page 14 (note that World 8 itself is named "Bowser's Villa").
  • In Nocturne: Rebirth, half of the manual is in the "Manual" option in the main menu while the other half is provided by three mercenary NPCs in the village. The few Forced Tutorial events in the first dungeon don't cover nearly as much as the manual and NPCs, meaning players will struggle with the mechanics or be completely unaware of them if they don't consult these sources.
  • Seraphic Blue has a manual in the form of several HTM files included in the game folder. The game itself has few if any tutorials and expects the player to read the files to learn complex mechanics like the element system.
  • Splatoon 2: An in-universe example. In Salmon Run, if you and your team fail to collect even one Golden Egg, Mr. Grizz will talk about how he's thinking about making the employee handbook mandatory. Not like Pearl isn't pushing him that way already...
    Pearl: I cook Salmonids all day, but Mr. Grizz keeps crying about eggs or whatever.
    Marina: Pearl, did you even read the Grizzco training manual?
  • In Super Mario Odyssey, there's always a local in any given kingdom that will ask you if you know about the Action Guide (the in-game manual). If you don't, they helpfully bring it up for you, and if you do, they send you on your way.
  • Tunic turns this into the central game mechanic. Pages of the game's old-school instruction booklet are the game's main collectable. If you collect all the pages, you can show the completed manual to the final boss to skip the final fight and get the good ending. In other words, you win the game by telling the final boss to RTFM.
  • The Sega Master System adaptation of Jurassic Park can only be cleared on a No Continue Run. If you screw up, no final stage for you. This is explained in the manual, but many people, for several years, have been misled by a 2005 text walkthrough on GameFAQS that falsely claims collecting every JP logo item in each stage is what unlocks it.
  • Star Trek: 25th Anniversary had one of these that has marred the reputation of this otherwise excellent game: Players were told in the manual that doing well on missions helps to increase the ship's performance in combat, but few people read that part or paid sufficient attention to it. This led to many players reaching the end of the game with middling scores, and then getting completely trounced in a Nintendo Hard battle where their crew simply wasn't good enough to win. The game itself makes no effort to explain why the battle is too hard, and few players realize that going back to get a higher score would help at all. Most players instead assumed (hopelessly) that they are simply being asked to develop super-human combat skills - leading to an unfortunate reputation.
  • La-Mulana asks the player to read the manual in a few places. It turns out that some details required to solve several puzzles lie within, but most people skip over the explanations due to the manual containing a lot of fodder. This is de rigeur for the game, which will bury essential information in a sea of random data.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog has the large bubbles in the Labyrinth Zone. The only way you'd figure out that they are Air Bubbles that extend your oxygen is either by accident, by looking up a guide, or by reading the manual. The game was designed with speed in mind, so don't expect any In-Universe tutorials because you're not going to get any!
  • With the Game Boy version of Daffy Duck: The Marvin Missions, the manual tells how to use points to change Daffy's gun, but in-game there's no instructions or even a menu for it. This becomes a problem at the beginning of stage 2, where the default gun can't reach the clock you need to destroy to remove the gate blocking access to the rest of the stage.

  • Schlock Mercenary:
    • Sergeant Schlock (then a corporal) discovers in mid fall that he doesn't know the exact difference between a plasma rocket and a plasma cannon. Solution — start reading the freaking manual: "No problem. We're in no hurry down here".
    • Elf initially appears to be a savant at the fabber, but it turns out that, while still incredibly advanced and far beyond the level one would expect from a grunt who hadn't completed high school... she'd been using the fabber's manual and assist options, which Kevyn calls cheating.
      Note: A double-blind study performed between 2462 and 2471 purported that males of several sophont terran species are over 73% less likely to consult instruction manuals than were females of the same species. The impact on public education was immediate, and the "why don't you ask for directions" jokes did not let up for almost thirty years.
      The study was discredited in 2508 when artifacts in the raw data indicated that someone had mis-processed the genetic material analyzed. Ironically, this was due to a male researcher failing to consult the Gene-EE 3000's online help.
    • The Gavs activate an artifact that will kill everyone and are themselves killed before they can fix their mistake. The artifact was also a hard-copy storage system with trillions of gigabytes of data. One of the Gavs admits that the information they needed was probably somewhere in the data.
      Tagon: That sounds a lot like "we didn't bother to read the manual."
      Danita: There should have been more information on the quick-start card.
    • When Andy's new girlfriend wants to join the company, Chelle and Tagon are shocked that she read the operations manual beforehand.
      Chelle: I like her, sir. She reads.
      Tagon: She might be overqualified for infantry.
    • When an engineer, a doctor, and a quartermaster are trying to design field medical equipment, they run into this problem. If you skip one step, it won't cause any problems until a later step, but if you then go back and do that step, it will cause much bigger problems that you won't notice until a later step, and then everything is too screwed up to fix. The engineer suggests emphasizing the importance of following the instructions, but the quartermaster points out that this doesn't actually solve the problem of people not reading the instructions.
  • Truck Bearing Kibble points out how certain Fahrenheit 451 characters may experience problems of this sort.
  • User Friendly: The techs hate people who don't do this.
  • The Whiteboard gives us two. In this strip, a customer comes in and tells Doc that he can't get the paintball gun to work no matter what buttons he tries pressing. Doc's response is to duct tape the owner's manual to the guy's face. A much later one occurs here during a Christmas arc; Pirta is surprised to see Doc reading the instructions since that is a violation of man rules. Doc agrees that this is normally the case but he tends to be more careful whenever he is building anything involving explosives and rocket fuel.
  • El Goonish Shive:
    • Spellcasters (including the magical members of the main cast) are given spellbooks when they earn their first spell which are bound to them and which update automatically with new information every time they earn a new spell. Apparently no one (except Nanase) reads them regularly, so they're always surprised when they instinctively pull out their new spells in danger. It says something that these books are such a slog that kids won't read them to learn about their awesome new magical powers.
      Elliot: I swear this thing makes up words to pad its own length.
    • Susan runs into a different problem: She read the entirety of her spellbook when she first got it, but after that she was under the mistaken impression that she'd get some sort of notification when it updated, so she ignored it. She became much better about keeping up with it once she realized she needed to check it every day.
    • When the Will of Magic calls a council of seers to change how magic works, Tedd mentions that spellbooks are complicated and hard to understand. The next day, everyone discovers that their spellbooks have shrunk and reduced themselves to extremely simple (but easy to understand) descriptions. The Will of Magic isn't good at subtle.
  • In Undead Friend Wylie berates Orrick for not reading the game rules before hunting him down and begging for his help.
  • In Questionable Content, it turns out that some A.I.s are guilty of not reading the manuals for the bodies in which they are installed.

    Web Original 
  • James Rolfe, The Angry Video Game Nerd, declared the uselessness the speed and altitude readings in his review of Top Gun for the NES. Naturally, he couldn't figure out how to land later on, even though the game lists the desired speed and altitude for landing RIGHT THERE AT THE BOTTOM OF THE SCREEN. Rather, he tried to land purely based on prompts like "Speed up!!" "Speed down!!" and "left left!!"
    • He later did a follow-up video explaining his mistake. To be fair, a lot of other gamers had the same problem, as the "left left!!" commands really grab your attention.
    • It's also justified that he probably did not have the manual as he buys a lot of his games secondhand, and with buying older cartridge-based games, you're lucky if they do come with a manual.
    • In his review of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, he points out this trope, saying that while the game is bad, it's not as bad as people say, and much of the hate it gets is from people picking up the game and expecting they can just play it instantly like other Atari 2600 games, and never finding out how to play the game, see the quote page.
    • But in his review of Tiger Electronic Games, he defies this, many of the Tiger LCD Handelds he showed in the video, he could not even figure what to do and just mashed buttons and waited for what would happen next, and wasn't even sure if some games were defective or not, but he states that these LCD Handhelds are so primitive and simple, that a manual should not be necessary and they should be the pick up and play games, matching with the criticism that this technology is very limited, but the games tried to be complex and do more than what they could.
    "A game this simple should not need an instruction manual".
  • Excessively snarky news aggregator frequently features comments that are derived from the famous RTFM acronym: posters will advertise when posting that they DNRTFA ("Did Not Read The Farking Article") they are commenting on, or be told to RTFA ("Read The..." Eh, you can guess the rest.) when making a comment that is obviously addressed by the article in question.
  • A common saying on sites like YouTube is "Read the freaking [video] description!" yet no one seems to bother anyways. Some users don't write a description at all for this reason. And some others started watching videos without much interest in the descriptions, so they'd put up videos with bare-bones or no descriptions.
  • Gaia Online has a whole forum dedicated to being able to ask questions about the site and get answers from other users. That forum would be utterly dead if people would just read stickied threads or the information in the Help Center.
    • Also afflicted is their MMORPG, zOMG! The forum for said MMO is filled with threads by users asking how to sell their rings... even though the item description for said rings ends with a note that "all rings are soulbound and cannot be traded or sold, with certain grandfathered exceptions (rings acquired before the binding mechanic was implemented)". Those who did read the freaking manual then spam the forum asking how to grandfather their rings so they can sell them.
  • SCP Foundation: Step-1- Read all the steps before continuing. For instance, if you need to clean SCP-173's workspace and think you don't need the three people required, reading the manual will tell you why that is a very bad idea. Maybe the Foundation administration will send lovely flowers to your family afterwards.
  • Used in the Joueur du Grenier's review of the game based on Airwolf, at the end of his "guide on how to get angry at your computer" skit:
    JdG: But if you want to avoid all that, just read the fucking manual!
  • In Game Grumps, it's common for Arin and Jon/Danny to ignore tutorials (sometimes intentionally) and then complain about not knowing what to do.
    • The most infamous moment of this was during their playthrough of Milky Way Wishes, where they skip the tutorial and fail to learn the core gameplay mechanic. This leads to them insulting the game for the better part of a half-hour and calling it many synonyms for shitty, only discovering the main gameplay mechanic by accident.
    • The second most egregious example was when playing Sonic the Hedgehog (2006). After defeating Egg Genesis as Sonic, you are automatically warped to a lake. The entrance to Tropical Jungle is in the middle of the lake, and a Hint Mark reminds you of an underused gameplay mechanic that would let you cross it. The Grumps completely ignore the hint mark, walk away from the level entrance, and proceed to wander around the (at the time unnecessary) ruins for about twenty minutes, only realizing their mistake once they decide to read the strategy guide.
    • Later, the Grumps spent the entire first Naughty Bear video complaining about not knowing what to do because they talked over the narration telling them to burn the present. They addressed it in the 2nd video.
    • Steam Train has this problem as well. It cropped up in the Steam Train playthrough of They Bleed Pixels. Even worse, they spend a lot of time complaining about the game forcing a tutorial and control instructions on them (which are written on the game's walls throughout the first level), only to then forget certain actions that they can perform, most notably completely forgetting they can duck to avoid enemy attacks, and Ross completely ignoring the instructions written on the walls on how to open certain doors.
  • Achievement Hunter tends to do the same thing as the Game Grumps as they'll start a video on a new game and screw around for a video or two before either stumbling around and finding how the games work or they get fed up and look up instructions.
  • Ultra Fast Pony:
    Twilight: Nothing's illegal if it's For Science!!
    Spike: Isn't that what you said when you tried to clone that burrito?
    Twilight: How was I supposed to know they'd turn into super-intelligent evil mutants that haunt us to this very day?
    Spike: Because that's what it said in the instruction book.
    Twilight: Shut up, Spike.
  • It is strongly advised that new players read the OP before posting in the Enter the Arena as Your Avatar, and possibly tell the other players and the moderator that the new player has read it.

    Western Animation 
  • The Simpsons:
    • In one episode of The Simpsons, Homer attempts to build a barbecue grill, but he drops the English-language instructions into the pool of cement he had started, and is forced to follow the French instructions ("Le grille?! WHAT THE HELL IS THAT?!") After a few minutes of frustration, he gives up and tries to do it by himself, predictably leaving behind a jumbled mess (which, incidentally, becomes a critically-acclaimed piece of modern art among the Springfield art community).
    • In "Homer Defined", as the reactor is going into meltdown, Homer actually remembers that there is a manual and quickly grabs it. However, he quickly throws it away after realizing exactly how thick it is ("Whod've thought that a nuclear reactor would be so complicated?") and ultimately only succeeds by pressing a button at random.
  • One episode of The Fairly OddParents! had the use of the computer delayed by over 150 years because no one would read the manual (or anything else). Timmy hid the deed to a town in the old computer manual, where it remained undiscovered until he came to pick it up.
    Doug Dimmadome: It was in an old computer manual? Dag nabbit, no one ever reads the manual!
  • Wow! Wow! Wubbzy!: When Wubbzy gets a pet Fleegle, he throws away the manual because he thinks he won't need it. If he'd read the manual, he would have known that feeding a Fleegle candy causes it to grow exponentially, or that feeding it a sandwich causes it to multiply.
  • One episode of Kim Possible "Job Unfair" begins with Dr. Drakken stealing a Weather-Control Machine for his latest evil plan, only to discover that he has no idea how to operate it. His sidekick Shego eventually convinces him to go back and steal the manual as well.
  • Averted in Avatar: The Last Airbender, by manly-man (but The Smart Guy) Sokka: when attempting to sabotage an enemy siege weapon, the very first thing he tries to find is a schematic diagram.
  • In the TV movie Phineas and Ferb The Movie: Across the 2nd Dimension, after Perry's cover is blown and the boys find out their pet platypus is actually a secret agent, he gives them a pamphlet which an upset Phineas immediately throws away. Had he read it, he would have found out that Perry kept his identity a secret because he would have to be relocated otherwise. It says a lot that Phineas and Ferb forgave and fought alongside Perry even without knowing. Once they do find out, they agree to have their memories wiped in order to keep Perry.
  • Get Ace: Ace never finishes reading the manual for his high-tech spy braces, much to the chagrin of Hugo, his holographic assistant. To be fair, the manual is big enough to fit a whole book. The one time Ace actually puts effort into studying it, he falls asleep while reading.
  • Goof Troop uses both the unwilling and unable variations of this trope.
    • If Goofy is involved, you can bet he will read the manual wrong, which usually but not always brings along a "How To" Narrator who will berate Goofy for making mistakes. Sometimes we get to see the results of his manual-reading gone wrong.
    • On the other hand, if PJ is involved, whoever he's talking to (Max or Pete) will dismiss his sound advice to read the manuals (or similar things like gauges) which invariably leads to disaster.
  • Jimmy Two-Shoes: The episode "Too Many Jimmys" has Jimmy using a cloning machine to make copies of himself to hang out with, but is told by Heloise that it will only work if he follows the instructions she gives him. He predictably ignores them, leading to the machine producing an army of malformed clones that cause chaos across Miseryville. In Jimmy's defense, Heloise did include fake steps alongside the real ones for no reason other than sadistic giggles that made it harder to take them seriously, so he isn't completely at fault.
  • A Private Snafu cartoon, "Snafuperman," as this as An Aesop with Snafu becoming a Super Hero, only to be the world's dumbest one because he won't read his military field manuals like he is supposed to.
  • In "Nanou to the Rescue" from Bali, Bali's father is having trouble fixing up a bookshelf in Bali's room. Bali notices a piece of paper in the trashcan, which happens to have the instructions depicted on it, suggesting "Maybe you need this to show you how to fix it properly?" His father, however, says, "No thanks, Bali. Instruction manuals confuse me." Bali heads off for a day in the park, but at the end of the story, the bookshelf is assembled. However, the placement of a single book causes it to fall apart. Bali runs back over to the trashcan with the instructions, suggesting that maybe his dad really does need them. He agrees and they decide to both put the bookshelf together with each other the next day.
  • In the final season of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, when Tirek, Chrysalis, and Cozy Glow get their hooves on Grogar's Bewitching Bell, they find they have no way to know how to use it. Knowing that the Canterlot archives contains books on forbidden knowledge, they break in and steal a book on the bell's secrets.
  • In the Teen Titans episode "Overdrive" Cyborg gets a new microchip to enhance his cybernetic parts. While he had checked to see if the chip was compatible with his systems, if he had read the manual, he would have learned that shutting down said systems to boost the chip's power would nearly cause an overload. However, he got impatient.
    Cyborg: Just take a second to read the instructions...and this warning, a few disclaimers, another warning, something in German-Oh, man! I don't have time for this!
  • Yin Yang Yo!: Ultimoose finds the Amnisulet with its manual, and instantly decides "Reading is for girls! Ultimoose learns by doing!" He then uses the Amnisulet to become the Night Master until Yang gets his hands on it and resets the day. When Ultimoose gets the Amnisulet the second time, he decides to read the manual this time, and becomes the Night Master again to greater effect.
    Ultimoose: "Manual." It even has the word "man" in it!

  • A Hoops and Yoyo Administrative Professionals Day e-card has this line when you ask Hoops about fixing the copier:
    "Allow me to introduce you to Mr. Manual. Read him. Love him. Fix it, you got that? Chop chop!"
  • Pinball both plays this trope straight and averts it, depending on what you're doing with the machines:
    • If you are an owner or operator, the manual is very important in ensuring the machine is set up and maintained correctly. However, with a few exceptions, pinball manuals do not explain how to play the game, containing only information about initial setup, the mechanical aspects, and contact information, like the manual for an appliance like a TV or VCR. Nevertheless, it has been distressingly common through pinball's entire history for someone to have a machine in public and not have it set up correctly, such as uneven legs, improperly installed lights, or incomplete software. For this reason, pinball manufacturers in later decades would have the machines shipped as fully assembled as possible, knowing there would be too many incompetent or lazy operators who'd put a badly-working machine in public.
    • For the player however, the people who make these machines expect the player to learn all of the rules by playing a lot or from another player. In some communities, this trope is actually inverted, with discussions of rules treated as spoilers. Among pinball fans, this is known as "discovery", in which you are to feel pleasantly surprised when a pinball game demonstrates a new rule you hadn't seen before. Comprehensive guides do exist online for those who would prefer to know all of the rules in advance, however, but they are written by fans, not the manufacturers, and may not be available if there isn't enough interest for anyone to write one.
  • A musical version based around Meat Loaf's "I Would Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That)". Gags aplenty are to be had speculating on what "That" might refer to ... provided you don't listen to the song where the actual referents are to be found.

    Real Life 
  • Computer hardware manufacturer MSI announced the addition of an RTFM-chip to their products designed to analyze what the user did after a problem, then send the information back to MSI, with the intention of reducing the number of tech support queries and RMA's over problems detailed in the manual.
  • Some tests are actually tests to see if you read and follow all instructions completely:
    • A common example used in school. A worksheet will read "Read all instructions before completing," and start off with relatively benign instructions. Later on, instructions start becoming bizarre with commands like "Cluck like a chicken," or whatever. If you read to the bottom, the last instruction will tell you to disregard all the other instructions, revealing to the rest of the class who actually read the entire sheet before completing it.
    • A similar example is a long step-by-step computation with the legend, "read completely before attempting", for which the very last computation is "× 0". Of course, this trick works best if multiplication is the highest order of operations in the term. While exponents don't matter that much if they are written as powers, brackets can make it a bit complicated. (A subtler variant, maybe not exactly this trope, exists too: "simplify (x-a)*(x-b)*...*(x-z)".)
    • This type of test is also used to measure a how good a soldier can follow orders. They are told to read through the entire sheet before they start to answer the questions. Because of a time limit many will start to panic and start filling in the answers. Those that don't panic will finally read that they don't need to answer any questions at all.
    • This was the basis of the famous "brown M&Ms" demand that Van Halen made. In musicians' contracts for live performances, "riders" are the parts of the contract that specify what the musicians would like to be provided for them backstage (and sometimes onstage). Van Halen specified, among other things, a bowl of M&Ms with the brown ones taken out, adding that if this was not met, they could cancel the performance. This has often been taken to be ludicrous rock star self-indulgence, but actually, Van Halen's stage show, with its complex lighting, sound and gear, required very meticulous setup in order to be functional and safe. The band inserted the M&M rider into the contract in order to see if the people responsible would actually read that far and comply with it. If they had complied, they would almost certainly be aware of the other things in the document as well, and the performance would likely be all the safer for it.
  • Inverted by O'Reilly's Missing Manuals series, an entire series of books that serve as manuals for programs that either didn't come with one, or came with a really crappy manual. Its tagline is even "The book that should have been in the box".
  • Reading the Freaking Manual can even help computers! See this news story about how an MIT AI research group's machine-learning system actually read the manual for Freeciv (a Civilization II clone) and used it to improve its victory rate from 46% up to 79%.
  • RTFM is commonly used by engineering lecturers/advisers when asked a particularly stupid question. Also common is ATFQ, used in longer reports.
  • Ask anyone in the tech field - especially tech support or customer service. A lot of people are guilty of this. Not only do the customers not read the manual, but oftentimes, the staff doesn't either. Many people assume that because they already know how to use it that they don't need to read the manual.
  • Often inverted nowadays. Most complex technical devices (which now includes TV sets) come with manuals that are thick only because they contain 30 languages, some of which you've never heard of before. The actual content is usually trivial. Without internet fora and similar user-driven information sources, you're sunk trying to even remotely exploit, for example, a smartphone's capabilities.
  • In some internet discussion groups, posters go overboard telling people who are asking any question to RTFM (anything Unix-related for example), even if the manuals comprise 1000 pages or more just for the overview. Regardless of being helpful or smug, it often translates as 'I don't know either'.
  • Various websites in the Stack Exchange Q&A network are particularly notorious for closing valid questions with a link to another question which clearly doesn't solve the problem the poster asked help with.
  • During The War on Terror, American artillerymen assigned to train Afghan soldiers in the effective use of artillery found that the Afghans were using Russian artillery pieces which the Americans were not familiar with. Fortunately, the Afghan soldiers had the manuals that went with the artillery... except that the manuals were, of course, written in Russian.
  • Amazon customer review pages are loaded with angry 1-star reviews from customers complaining that a bought product didn't work as expected, even though the very thing they're complaining about is already addressed in the Amazon item's description!
  • Amazon sells spears. Some even are good enough quality to be used as a weapon. But there are a record number of users who wreck their weapon by using it as a javelin, even though a basic internet read on the distinction between the two tells you that while certain spears can be thrown, only specific types are designed to be thrown, you should probably practice with a spear before throwing it against solid objects, and definitely shouldn't throw it against thick objects like a tree. Many one-star reviews say, "I threw this spear against a tree and it broke the first time."
  • Many software companies have stopped including manuals at all in the interests of 'going green' (read: an excuse to save money on printing costs). Physical copies of video games and computer software will often be packaged with nothing more than a 2-page leaflet telling you that the manual is either located on the software disc itself or downloadable from the company's website. This substantially lowers the rate of the people who RTFM.
  • PC Pitstop offered a prize of $1000 dollars claimable by anyone who just read the freaking EULA. It took seven years for someone to actually read the EULA and find that. Seriously, read the freaking EULA!
  • Poor documentation is a problem in the world of open source software. If the project is very popular, it will likely have a large enough community of users and contributing developers to amass a wealth of tutorials, literature, and forum posts to help newcomers learn the ropes. However, many projects are written by very small teams of developers working in their spare time, with no recourse to a technical writing staff to produce a well-written manual. This leaves the task of writing documentation to the developers themselves, who may not realize that the audience reading the manual don't have the same intimate knowledge of the program that they do.

Now just shut up, sit down and Read the Freaking Manual!

Alternative Title(s): RTFM