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Among computer gurus, RTFM is a favorite response to questions that are trivial or annoying. It stands for something like "Read the flipping manual." This is good advice for any problem you have, because ninety percent of people's questions (for both software and hardware) are answered in their documentation. Whenever I buy a new program, the first thing I'll always do is read the first two or three chapters of the book ("Before You Begin," "Getting Started," "Installation," etc.) before I even open the disk package, and then I'll read the rest of the manual while the computer is busy reading the disks.

Having said that, here's a few tips on how to understand what the manual is trying to say:

Words that you should type into the computer are usually in a different typeface, such as bold or 'courier' font, or are enclosed in "quotation marks" (Don't type the "s.) Some manuals will add a period at the end of what you should type, for example:


Don't type that last period. (In case you didn't notice, the first period is in bold, but the second one isn't.)

Words or letters shows in italics should not be typed in as-is; rather, they indicate you should replace them with whatever text is appropriate for your computer. A common example is the use of x: to indicate the drive letter of your 3.5" floppy disk. So, if your 3.5" is drive A, you would type A:; or, if your 3.5" is drive B, type B:.

Also relating to drive letters - I've seen some manuals that make the mistake of saying "Type A:INSTALL" when the software is on CD. Here you have to be smarter than the manual, and realize that A: is never the letter for your CD. Instead, it would be something like D:, E:, J:, or whatever. Remember:

Don't forget the preliminaries!

If your manuals includes a page showing "system requirements," make sure your system meets those requirements! If the manual tells you to be at the DOS prompt at or before step 1, make sure you exit all your other programs. If the manual tells you to start from the Program Manager, make sure you are in Windows.

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