So I was on Reddit.
I was chest-deep into the EA loot box controversy, because I’m slowly but truly coming out of the gaming closet, so to speak.
Long story short (ha), a user wrote a REALLY LONG POST about it.
Either at the end or in the comments somewhere, a TL;DR appeared.
Some people started criticizing TL;DRs (too long, didn’t reads) using the same argument I’ve always used. Summing up a post in a sentence or two encourages people not to read, continues to taint the concept of long-form journalism, and shouldn’t be a “thing.”
Until now, I would have fully agreed with these arguments. I can’t stand people who appear too lazy to read things. I write thousands of words every day hoping at least a small percentage of people will read them. You know those people on Facebook who post what the article is about so people “don’t have to read it themselves”? Those people could kill my job one day.
A comment following that gave me a completely new perspective on the matter.
The user explained that a TLDR isn’t necessarily for the lazy internet scroller. For this person in particular, reading the TLDR before actually reading the entire, very long post helped them better understand it by the time they reached the end.
I never thought of it like that. Some people like taking small bites before really diving into their meal. There’s nothing wrong with that.
This does not mean that “heroes without capes” won’t still fight to #StopClickbait. This doesn’t mean that people won’t continue to, for whatever reason, reject the idea of reading well-written content on the internet. Those people are always going to exist. We can ignore them.
But for those who want to grasp the concept of a long-form piece before or after reading it through can benefit from bolded TL;DR statements. Good for them. When it seems appropriate, I am happy to add one, if it means more people get my message (whether they read all my words or not).
There are some battles that aren’t worth fighting. As writers, our job is to write. You can’t “save” people who don’t want to read.
There are also those out there who legitimately have trouble comprehending things — it’s not their fault. English is not everyone’s first language. Dyslexia seems like a pain in the butt to those who have to learn to live with that. And it’s not fair to lump readers like these into generalizations like “this generation is killing the publishing industry.” (Not that I would ever use statements like that, but many do.)
I am happy to have readers who, I assume, read large portions of my content. At my job, my articles have to be short, sweet, and to the point, or people won’t click through them. You’re not in control of what your readers do. You’re only in control of the things you present to them.
Trends on the internet are always changing. People crave quick, easily digestible content. I may not like it, but I’m not the one reading it. Remember your audience and what they need to be satisfied. If they want that TL;DR, give it to them. You never know who might really benefit from it.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.