Working as a technology professional, I’m regularly asked all sorts of questions by folks in less technical jobs. While you’ve always heard that there’s no stupid questions, there may be some questions that could have been avoided with a little of effort and a practice we sometimes call RTFM. RTFM is an acronym for Read The Fine Manual (other substitutions for the F may be appropriate depending on your frustration level).
It’s a common misconception that, as a technology professional, I know everything that there is to know about computers and software. As shocking as it may be, I don’t. A good portion of my time is spent reading technical manuals, how-to’s and message boards. These activities arm me with the information I need to perform the duties of my job. You can use some of these methods to answer your own questions, or be a hero to a friend by helping them out of a jam.
To start with, RTFM. The new doohicky you ordered online just arrived and the last thing that you want to do is spend a15 minutes reading a manual. I know the temptation of a shiny new toy, but take a moment to find the english section of the manual and at least give it a quick review before you dive in. Manuals offer varying degrees of help, some just have a few poorly drawn diagrams showing you how to plug the thingamabob in, but some are very helpful and can at least steer you clear of a major mishap that could result in having to return a fried thingamabob to the manufacturer.
So you’ve perused the manual and managed to get the gadget plugged in, software installed or whatever the instructions had you do. You’ve figured out how to do a few basic things and now you’re ready to do something that’s not covered in the documentation. What do you do now? You could, of course, call your family geek if you have one, or you could spend the next hour on hold to get marginal support from a customer service rep on the other side of the globe. Or, you could set about finding the answers yourself.
One of the first places to look for answers in an application is the help file. This can usually be accessed either from the menu at the top of the program, or in Windows you can commonly access it by hitting the F1 key. Some help files contain only minimal information, but others are downright, well, helpful. The better ones even have sections called “How do I…” which contains instructions to perform most of the basic tasks available in the program.
The next place to look is the manufacturer’s website. Again, some are better than others. On the lower end, you may get a FAQ or Frequently Asked Questions section that answers a few of the most common questions posed to the manufacturer’s technical support. On the better end, you’ll find in-depth instructions, a FAQ and even forums where users share ideas and solutions. Good forums on manufacturer’s web sites are monitored by their staff who will answer questions for you. Some even have live chats which can help overcome the language barrier of speaking to someone who’s native language isn’t english.
When those sources fail to reveal an answer, Google it! Chances are, you’re not the fist person to have the question, and one of the best things about the Internet is that people like to share information. Phrase your search right, and you’ll find web pages with a huge amount of information to guide you along your way. A search for “How do I sync music to my iPod?” gave me almost 3 million hits, the first 10 of which were very straight forward, easy to follow answers. NEVER pay for answers on the Internet, there are sites that want you to buy a subscription for answers to common questions, but it’s just not worth it.
When you’ve looked everywhere and you’re still stuck, get in touch with someone you know who uses the program or gadget and ask them. After that, seek help from someone a bit geekier than yourself. It’s a great feeling to something out on your own, and by just using the principle of RTFM, you’ll find what you’re looking for.