TLDR: Get to the point so you can tell the whole story

October 15, 2014

There’s a popular term in the online world that makes writers cringe: TLDR. It means “too long – didn’t read.” It’s a curt dismissal that’s the equivalent of readers sticking fingers in their ears and chanting “LALALALALA.”

But something interesting has come out of this. Those who need to convey a lot of information are starting to preface it with a short “TLDR” statement that goes straight to the bottom line in just a few words. It’s not even a summary. It’s a single, very simple thought, a conclusion completely lacking in detail or understanding. By itself, it’s useless. There’s too much left out – but there’s just enough to help the reader decide whether to continue.

The title of this blog post is just such a statement. If you’ve gotten this far, it worked. See what we did there?

This mindset can be a useful tool in a world where you’ve got just one very brief shot to get someone’s attention. We all know that Americans have short attention spans – in 2013, the average was just 8 seconds. The attention span of a goldfish is said to be 9 seconds.

That’s a bit misleading, because when we’re in a focused, information-consuming mode, we’re more likely to stay engaged. The trick is to get us there in the first place.

Looking at communications through a TLDR lens can make for better headlines, snappier openings and even be used to choose images that help to tell the tale. Any or all of these can make someone stop for a moment and look more closely.

That opening volley opens the door to a richer, more nuanced story – one that compels, informs and provokes real thought. That’s TLDR’s true value. After all, the best copy in the world is useless if it doesn’t get read.

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