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@romainl has written a great summary of how to use Vim's documentation.

I think this should be copied into, or at the very least linked from, the site's official help pages. It's universally useful resource. (I, for one, would have probably saved a lot of time if I'd found out about :helpgrep at any point in the past ten years of using Vim.)

It should also, if possible, be waved fairly obtrusively in front of users before they ask their first question on the site. (ISTR that some (all?) SE sites already have functionality along those lines.)

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    Waved obtrusively is done only on SO and maybe a few very high-traffic sites. It's pretty ineffective: IIRC observations show that a majority click through without reading — and to compound the ineffectiveness it's the ones who don't need to be told who take the time to read. Linking to it from the tour page would be a good idea, but it's only for the clueful, you can't do anything against the clueless. – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Feb 24 '15 at 17:17
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I disagree that we should deter elementary questions by telling users to read :help.

  • The idea that elementary-level questions are unwelcome on this site is a dangerous one. What's obvious to you may not be obvious to someone else. Furthermore, once you know something well, it's hard to remember what it was like to be incompetent.
  • Vi already has a reputation for being a user-unfriendly editor. (Well, it's picky about who its friends are, anyway.) The last thing we want is for the Vi/Vim Stack Exchange community to acquire a reputation for being user-unfriendly too.
  • Vim's help system includes dozens of pages, each of them containing many screens of text. With that much material, it's reasonable to ask for assistance with finding, interpreting, or applying information about anything in the manual.
  • If someone isn't reading Vim's help pages, what makes you think they'll read ours?

You didn't ask about whether we should write "RTFM" as a comment or answer. But just in case anyone was entertaining the thought…

  • "RTFM" as a comment or a pre-emptive warning defeats the purpose of this site: we want to get users' questions answered. If you aren't interested in writing an answer to a question, then just don't answer it. "RTFM" as a response is needlessly aggravating.
  • "RTFM" as an answer would be a link-only answer. We nuke those.
  • I don't think we should write RTFM at all. I think having a good guide to how to use vim's :help is something that would be useful to, and appreciated by beginner users (for example, I only found out about :helpgrep last week, after about ten years of using Vim), and I think people are unlikely to find that guide unless we publish it somewhere more prominent than it currently is. – Rich Feb 24 '15 at 20:59
  • Then what did you mean by "waved fairly obtrusively in front of users"? – 200_success Feb 24 '15 at 21:00
  • I don't think all users comb through the (vi.SE) Help before posting a question, so I think it would be good to make it more noticable. – Rich Feb 24 '15 at 21:03
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    This question & answer is a good example of something that can be (very) easily looked up in the manual. This doesn't mean it's a "stupid" question, but perhaps the OP used the wrong keywords or didn't know how to use the help. In this case "RTFM" is the wrong reply, but I think " HHYCLTHY" ("Here's How You Can Learn To Help Yourself") is a good answer here (as a comment, or P.S. to the actual answer), and that's exactly what romainl's question/answer does. I'm fairly sure the OP would have prefered to not have asked this question in the first place. – Martin Tournoij Feb 24 '15 at 21:07
  • @200_success If you think elementary-level questions are fine, you should vote up my answer here: meta.vi.stackexchange.com/questions/3/… ;) – Rich Feb 24 '15 at 21:10
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    @Carpetsmoker But I learned something new by reading the cpo&vim question and answer, despite its RTFM nature. The site is better off with that question and answer. – 200_success Feb 24 '15 at 21:10
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In my experience, the group of people who ask truly bad question is often fairly small; the problem is often that they're often so active.

Reasons for this may include (but are not limited to) lack of English language skills to truly comprehend the manual, being in a position where they are "in over their heads" and subject to a great amount of stress to perform, being at a young age, or simple lack of required skills to even understand the problem (much less the solution).

Fixing these root causes would help these people becoming "better users"; however, this is usually far beyond the scope of what a site like this can do. I certainly don't think that obtrusively waving this text at them is going to fix anything.

As for everyone else, some will either find this on their own (hurray), or will be (friendly) pointed to it in an answer or comment, and that's usually enough.

For the really bad users, StackExchange has built-in systems to reduce much of the problems caused by these people. Ask a few bad questions, and you can't ask any more questions until you gain some reputation.

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