This cryptic four-letter designation has been cropping up with increasing regularity. Most often, it’s at the end of a long forum or blog comment. Some take offense at the terse quartet, but it offers a valuable lesson in concision.
First things first: Too Long; Didn’t Read. That’s its meaning, but what is its significance? Perhaps it’s symptomatic of an information-saturated online culture that doesn’t have the time to soak up every tasty detail. The audience wants the bottom line, the takeaway, as quickly and concisely as possible.
Certainly, you could go on and on providing detailed examples supporting your point of view, drop in references and citations to other works, link to corresponding content, and season the whole thing with copious quotes. But that is so much reinforcement to whatever it is you’re trying to communicate.
The reality is that online audiences are not hasty because they are so easily distracted. They actually want to remain hyper-engaged. They want all the essential info, but they’re scrolling through RSS feeds, skimming aggregators, checking their karma and threads, and contemplating — for the briefest of moments — whether or not your content is worth their engagement. All of that is contingent on a continuously evolving ability to prioritize content based on headlines, pull quotes, and search-engine summaries.
You might find TL;DR an inelegant phenomenon. It suggests we’re all just too damn busy to read anything, but the opposite is true. We want to read everything. We just want to get it as quickly as we can. If you’re going to ramble on, make sure you respect the reader’s need to get the good stuff as easily as possible. The writer/poster who couples TL;DR to a one-sentence thesis is demonstrating welcome online civility. It’s an acknowledgment that we’re busy and appreciate getting the highlights if we don’t have time to read something in its entirety. What’s more, if it’s done well, it can actually determine whether or not someone will take the time to read something start to finish.
TL;DR: We don’t have the time or patience to read everything we want. Keep content concise and if you must expound, respect your audience by providing an easy-to-spot summary.