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"They really should put the warnings before this stuff."

Often, a written/typed message only makes sense if it is read all the way through. However, not everyone has the patience to finish reading. They'll fasten on the part of the message they saw first, and act upon it, not realizing that there is more important information in the rest. Often justified in fiction by the writer of the message using poor syntax, Wall of Text, or "burying the lede" so that the most important information is on the next page. May lead to Dramatic Irony (as the audience will often gets to see the rest of the info), Cue Card Pause, and Worse with Context (or Better With Context).

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This can also apply to audio or video recordings, and communication transmissions (i.e over the phone, or with Voice with an Internet Connection).

Attention Deficit... Ooh, Shiny! characters are prone to this. See also Read the Fine Print and Read the Freaking Manual. Related to Out-of-Context Eavesdropping.

Compare and contrast Prophetic Fallacy, Lost in Transmission, Conveniently Interrupted Document, Plot-Based Photograph Obfuscation and Plot-Based Voice Cancellation for when it's not the fault of the reader/watcher/listener, but rather the document/transmitter itself.

Not to be confused with Slow-Paced Beginning, when the audience stops following a story too soon.


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Exampies:

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    Anime and Manga 
  • In Love Hina Christmas Special: Silent Eve, Su and Sara find Naru's letter to Kintaro and only bother to read one word in the middle of the page (love) before jumping to conclusions, setting off the whole Idiot Plot.
  • In Bakuman。, both the protagonists stop reading only a few pages into the book Iwase gave Takagi, one because he doesn't like the genre she wrote in, and the other because it was too "deep" for him. Thus they both miss the message she inserted between pages about halfway through the book.
  • In Ranma ½, Genma read about "The Cat Fist Technique" and decided to teach it to Ranma. It required tying him up with fish sausage and locking him in a basement full of hungry cats. Genma didn't read the next page, which stated "Of course, anyone who does this is a complete lunatic who should have their head examined."
  • In Slayers Lina is reading from the map of the dungeon about the various buttons, and Goury keeps acting before Lina has a chance to say what you should do about them. This leads to him pressing a mentioned hidden button before the instruction never to press it, then passing by the next button before the instruction not to walk by without pressing it. Naturally, all of these trigger traps.
  • In Snow White with the Red Hair when Suzu, Kirito and Yuzuri come to Wistal they bring along a note from Shidan which they were told would tell them what to do in case Garak was in one of her moods where she's pissed and shoving her work off onto everyone else while sequestering herself in her office. Upon opening and reading said note Suzu and Kirito both decide Shidan is worthless since it's a page telling them that it's hopeless and they should just do whatever Garak tells them. When the note later falls to the floor while they're working Shirayuki discovers that Shidan had included a way to improve Garak's mood, he'd just put it on the back of the letter.
  • In Pokémon episode "Pokemon Paparazzi", Meowth reads an article about Todd Snap, who is supposed to be the best at capturing Pokemon. Believing he's a Pokemon Hunter, Team Rocket hires him to get Pikachu for them. Later on, however, they see him trying to take Pikachu's photo, and Meowth looks back over the article to see he's actually the best at capturing Pokemon on film. While Meowth feels sheepish, Jessie and James are annoyed and very pissed.

    Comic Books 
  • In Ghost World, Seymour discovers Enid's Significant Sketchbook at one point and feels crushed when he sees a portrait of himself showing him as depressing and alone. When confronting Enid, she points him to the later pages in her sketchbook which has many more portraits of Seymour in a completely different light, which he didn't see when initially skimming the pages. Seymour is visibly touched by this discovery.
  • In Scott Pilgrim, Matthew Patel sends Scott an email explaining the basic plot of the series. Scott skims it before declaring it boring and deletes it, thus Scott is completely blindsided when the first fight over Ramona starts.
  • In Vote Loki the title character exploits the trope, why yes he let his most well know skeptic write an article about him while banking on people only reading the headline and he made sure that the editor of the newspaper changed that to an out of context quote that made him look good.

    Film — Live Action 
  • Hellboy: a variation; Abe Sapien reads off the description for the Hellhound from a book to Hellboy. Hellboy supposedly kills the hellhound before Abe finishes, after which he mentions the last few sentences about resurrection.
  • Lampshaded in Dogma:
    Loki: "Cardinal Glick cuts ribbon on Catholicism, Wow! campaign." And?
    Bartleby: [sighing] You have to keep reading.
  • Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie: Dr. Cal Meachum in the featured film gets several crates full of the necessary parts to build an interociter. The scene skips to after he's unpacked them, and the thousands of fragile parts are spread out on the floor. Cal reads the instructions again...
    Tom Servo: [as Cal Meachem] "But before unpacking..." D'oh!
  • Lampshaded in Doctor Strange (2016), where the title character, after being rebuked for trying out a dangerous spell he found in an old book, comments that it really doesn't make any sense to put the warnings about horrible, mind-shattering potential consequences after the spell. As the villains stole a page (by ripping it from the book) with that particular spell, they also miss the warning.
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    Literature 
  • In The Incredible Journey a housekeeper finds only one page of a two-page note. This leads to confusion about who is going to be taking care of three pets for two weeks. This sets the plot in motion—the pets escape and have adventures before anyone realizes they're gone.
  • Goosebumps, "How to Kill a Monster", the two main characters are trapped inside their grandparent's house with a monster inside. They find a letter from their grandparents telling them they left and warns them about the monster inside. After killing the monster and escaping from the house and into the swamp at night, they continue reading the letter explaining their grandparents lock them inside for their protection and to prevent them from leaving the house because there are more monsters in the swamp and they come out at night. After they finish reading, the kids have no idea what they are going to do next.
  • A rather egregious example in The Fabulous Five series: one of the protagonists, Melanie, finds an old two-page-long letter written by her mother expressing her surprise, and dismay, at discovering she was pregnant. Melanie is too upset to read the second page, where her mother said she started looking at the pregnancy as a blessing she would embrace instead of a disruption to her life. So Melanie undergoes a lot of unnecessary angst and worry that her parents don't really love her. The main plot of the book could have been prevented simply by reading the whole letter.
  • Parodied twice in A Series of Unfortunate Events. Once, in-universe, a vital note is hidden behind chapters and chapters about somebody picking a snack. On another occasion, the author actually buries us in boring information before writing a note to his sister.
  • Science Made Stupid by Tom Weller, a parody of grade school science textbooks, includes a page on how to build a backyard nuclear reactor. It gives directions for materials and assembly; then only after assembling the fuel elements does it tell you that the control rods must be inserted first.
  • In the case of the prophecy of The Chosen One from Harry Potter, it's a case of Stopped Listening Too Soon, as Snape heard only half of the prophecy before being caught and thrown out. As a result, Voldemort would end up acting on incomplete information and ultimately set the stage for his own downfall.

    Live-Action TV 
  • An episode of Blackadder Goes Forth has Captain Blackadder being court-martialed for shooting General Mellchett's prized pigeon, and he's stuck with George as his lawyer. Fortunately, George opts to read a prepared statement in court. Unfortunately...
    George: ...I firmly believe that like me you will conclude that Captain Blackadder is, in fact, totally and utterly GUILTY!
    (Beat and then Blackadder turns over the paper he's reading from.)
    George: -of nothing more than trying to do his duty under difficult circumstances.
  • There's the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Fear Itself" where Giles reads the information on Gachnar but doesn't read the inscription with its 'actual size' caption. Buffy also fails to let him finish reading later on before she breaks the seal and summons Gachnar on accident.
    Giles: (reading) There are several ways to stop Gachnar from manifesting. Destroying the mark of Gachnar — (Buffy Smash) — is not one of them and will in fact bring forth the Fear Demon itself!
  • Doctor Who: "The Sound of Drums" has a variation: the Doctor's companion Martha listens to an answering machine message from her sister, who tells her she has a new job. Thinking it's not that important, Martha deletes the message before hearing that her sister now works for Prime Minister Harold Saxon, aka The Master — the very villain that Martha, the Doctor and Jack are seeking to take down.
  • The Great British Bake Off: One of the issues that led to Val's elimination in series 7 was that in the technical challenge for Pastry week (a Bakewell tart) she somehow missed an entire page of instructions. Undaunted, she simply made her own recipe, which of course differed in just about every possible respect from what the judges were looking for. The real kicker is that the page she missed was the first page of instructions... and it apparently didn't strike her as strange that the page she did read began at step five.
  • Kaamelott: Arthur goes to Merlin to ask for an energizing potion because he's feeling down lately. Merlin looks for the potion and tells him to drink it. Arthur asks if he's sure, Merlin replies that yes, it says "one" on the label for "in one go". The as Arthur downs it, Merlin reads the word after that, which is "drop". Arthur spends the rest of the episode superexcited until the prospect of bedding his wife comes up, which cures him completely.
  • M*A*S*H: "The Army-Navy Game" has Hawkeye and Trapper trying to disarm a North Korean bomb which has planted itself in the ground, with Henry reading the instructions on how to disarm it from a bullhorn. They get to a pivotal part successfully until Henry reads a "but first" passage. The whole camp assumes an "Oh, Crap!" look.
  • Played for laughs on an episode of Psych as a flashback has Henry finding a young Shawn writing a report on Charlotte's Web despite how he only started reading it an hour ago. Shawn, priding himself on his deductive skills, tells Henry there's no need as "it's obvious from the first four chapters that Wilbur wins first prize at the fair and he and Charlotte live happily ever after." A smirking Henry bets Shawn a trip to Disneyland if he gets an A and Shawn starts planning which rides to go on, unaware he's in for an epic failing grade.
  • In The Twilight Zone (1959) episode "To Serve Man", the translator translates the title of the titular book but mentions it's going to take longer to decipher the content. Encouraged by the title, the government decides to go ahead and trust the aliens. Only for the eventual translation to reveal it's a cookbook.

    Radio 
  • In one episode of The Navy Lark Povey's scheme to drum the HMS Troutbridge crew out of the navy falls apart because he only read the front of the orders sheet, there was information on how they could get out of it on the back. Even worse The Admiral admits that he makes the same mistake constantly, and only noticed some important stuff when he turned some paper over to use as a drink's coaster.

    Theatre 
  • In Madame Butterfly, Sharpless reads a letter to Butterfly from her American husband Pinkerton, and Butterfly is excited to hear that he might be returning to her soon, though Sharpless realizes that Pinkerton is about to abandon her. In the opera, Butterfly overeagerly interrupts Sharpless before he is able to read the end of the letter; in the Belasco play, Butterfly merely fails to consider the meaning of Pinkerton referring to having been in love with her in the past tense.

    Video Games 

    Web Video 
  • Unskippable: The episode for Death By Degrees plays this straight during the discussion of an upcoming spy mission.
    Character: ...execute a video recon...
    Paul: Execute! Got it!
    Graham: No, no, no! Execute reconnaissance, not just execute! Stop... stop killing people!

    Western Animation 
  • Alvin from Alvin and the Chipmunks panics when he can't find his favorite baseball card. It gets worse when he sees the headline on that day's paper which says that a notorious cat burglar has struck again. He goes to sleep and has a Miami Vice inspired dream where he and Theodore track down the burglar. After he wakes up, he finds his missing baseball card and Simon shows him the full headline. Alvin missed the part saying the burglar was caught.
  • On American Dad! a guy stopped reading Carrie, literally in the middle of a sentence. Thus, he dropped pigs from the ceiling onto Stan at the prom instead of pigs' blood.
    Bully: It was supposed to be pigs' blood!
    Other Bully: I didn't get that far in the book!
    First Bully: So you stopped reading after the word "pigs?" That wasn't even the end of the sentence!
  • The Simpsons
    • The Trope Namer for To Serve Man is parodied in the first Halloween special, when Lisa accuses Kodos and Kang of wanting to eat them. She brandishes a book titled "How To Cook Humans". Kodos blows dust off, making the title "How To Cook For Humans". Lisa blows off more dust: "How To Cook Forty Humans". And finally, the full title, "How To Cook For Forty Humans". Lisa earns a What the Hell, Hero? from her family.
      Marge: Lisa, see what we mean when we say you're too smart for your own good?
    • In the episode "Blood Feud", Homer writes an angry letter to Mr. Burns, which starts out as a fake thank you note. Mr. Burns at first reads the thank you part, and is deeply touched, until he reads on to discover the following sentences.
      Dear Mr. Burns... I'm so glad you enjoyed my son's blood and your card was just great. In case you can't tell, I'm being sarcastic. You stink! You are a senile, buck-toothed old mummy with bony girl-arms, and you smell like an elephant's butt.
    • In the episode "Homer vs. the Eighteenth Amendment", a 200-year-old law banning alcohol is discovered in the Springfield Charter. It took until the very end of the episode to discover that it was repealed 199 years ago.
  • One ploy that Wile E. Coyote uses on the Road Runner in the Looney Tunes cartoon is to leave a pile of bird seed laced with Acme Earthquake Pills. The target ingests the entire bait, then departs unaffected. The coyote disgustedly eats the remaining pills, about half the bottle. A moment later, his eye catches the fine print at the bottom of the label: "Caution: Not effective on road runners." Cue the coyote's leg quivering ominously. In another story, the coyote lures the road runner into a snowy place and tries to catch him by riding a sled. After being mauled by the sled dogs that were said to catch up with road runners, he further reads the pamphlet and finds out "sled dogs love coyotes. Especially for supper".
  • A telegram delivered to Tom Cat in the Tom and Jerry cartoon "Million Dollar Cat" states that Tom has been bequeathed one million dollars. This news leaves Tom overjoyed, and he flings roses around the room and kisses a goldfish. Jerry Mouse reads the telegram in its entirety, and smugly points out the last line: "Payment stops if the cat brings harm to any living thing, even a mouse." Jerry goes into complete Jerkass mode, confident that he can torment Tom with impunity. Tom ends up choosing happiness over money.
  • In Mike Tyson Mysteries, "Is Magic Real?", Mike receives a note from an old Wizard asking if magic is real. When Mike finds the Old Wizard working in a parking garage, he assumes it must be magic if he was able to find him by chance until the Old Wizard points out that he told Mike where to meet him in his note. When Mike correctly guesses the Old Wizard's backstory, he also assumes it must be magic until the Old Wizard points out again that he included his backstory, in comic form, in his note.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: In "Hearts and Hooves Day", the Cutie Mark Crusaders find a storybook about a prince and princess who fell in love with each other thanks to a love potion, and decide to use it on Big Macintosh and Cheerilee. It's only afterward that they read on and find out that the prince and princess were so in love with each other, that their respective kingdoms fell into ruin because they literally couldn't stop looking at each other.
  • The Amazing World of Gumball, episode "The Romantic": In the school lab, Penny reads Gumball's note.
    Penny: "Mix the liquids and you will see..."
    (Penny mixes two chemicals into a beaker; they bubble and begin to form a Muck Monster)
    Penny: "... that chemistry is unpredictable as we are." Probably should have read the whole thing first.
  • Hilda: In "Chapter 8", Hilda discovers a spell book with a ritual for summoning Tide Mice; magical creatures that can give good luck to any person. She decides to use this on David and her mom to help them pass an audition and get a new job respectively. However, she only copies the page that contains the instructions for summoning the Tide Mice, and doesn't bother to read the footnotes, asterisks, etc. This comes back to bite her when it's revealed the Tide Mice will eventually steal the souls of their victims.

    Real Life 
  • There's a Hidden Purpose Test commonly used in schools to test how closely students read instructions. Students are given a list of instructions: the first item is to read the entire list before doing anything, the second is to sign your name, the next several ones are to make a series of drawings, and the last is to ignore every step between the second and last as soon as you read it. The "correct" answer is to turn in a test with a signature and nothing else, as the whole thing was an attempt to trick people into following the instructions wrong by starting when they're only part-way through. It doesn't always work: there are plenty of students that read the whole thing before acting but don't understand that the last step overrides the intermediary parts—mostly because, by the test's own logic, you shouldn't be following the last instruction as soon as you read it.


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