People Don’t Like To Read. Stop Upset Them With Text! [Introducing the tl;dr section]

tl;dr

Gordon Gower wrote me already a month ago asking me how I planned to celebrate my first blog anniversary coming up in the end of July. To be honest, until now I had no idea.

Yesterday, the much-desired update from my internal comms hero, Ian Harris, head of content at Gatehouse and author of the book Rock Your Comms – 98 Tips from Internal Communication Pros (read more about my admiration for him here), arrived in my inbox. As Ian always writes the most entertaining and eloquent, yet highly informative, articles on internal communication, I wasn’t surprised but still excited over his latest post.

Campaign for brevity

Ian introduced the abbreviation tl;dr to me, which is an expression meaning “too long, didn’t read”. [tweet this]

tl;dr

For clarity I’ll better quote him: “For years, people on online forums have replied ‘tl;dr’ to insult people who write lengthy posts. But in the last few months tl;dr has taken on a life of its own – evolving from a snarky dig into a sweeping campaign for brevity. /…/More articles are now including a ‘tl;dr’ section at the end – summing up the action for the benefit of busy readers.”

Internal communication no longer than a tweet

When reading Ian’s post, it struck me that this was the tangible proof that my predictions for the need of a different approach towards internal communication in the future had come true. [tweet this]

tl;dr

I recently wrote the article “The 140 Post – Future of Internal Communication” for David Grossman’s LeaderCommunicator blog about the fact that people read less than you think. This places new demands on communicators to be shorter and clearer than ever before. (In an attempt to be humorous, I took it even one step further in the post “Future of Corporate Communication: The (Cat) Meme” on my own blog).

Turning text into a picture

The tl;dr is the ultimate answer to this viewpoint. In our busy, information overflowing world, there’s a difference between watching and reading.

People love to watch pictures. That’s why networks such as Instagram, Vine, Everlapse and Pinterest grow so strong. When watching a picture, the eye takes in the entire context at the same time. When we read, the brain has to process small parts at a time and then interpret them to a whole. We need to focus more when we read and that’s why it feels more exhausting.

By shrinking a text down to a minimum, the text turns into a picture. The eye can see what it says in an instant and the brain doesn’t need your fully attention to make sense of it. To be able to cut through the noise, communicators and marketers need to make it easy for readers. They need to cut the crap.

A non-disturbing celebration

The tl;dr concept answers Gordon Gower’s question how I will celebrate my first year of blogging: by introducing the tl;dr section to my blog, of course! When you think about it, it’s actually something that all writers who are concerned about keeping their readers should consider. Most people don’t like to read, so why upset them with text? I won’t! [tweet this]

tl;dr

tl;dr

From now on, I won’t bother you with text when you read this blog. Just scroll down to the tl;dr section (means Too Long, Didn’t Read) at the bottom of each article to find an (almost) tweetable summary section. [tweet this]

Photo credit: woodleywonderworks via photopin cc, Photoforía via photopin cc

About the author

Anna Rydne is an award winning and highly skilled communications specialist with +13 years of experience in the field of internal and external communication, PR and marketing. What distinguishes her from others in her field of expertise is that she treats communication as entertainment. It's simple to explain why: if it isn't funny or relevant enough, people switch channel. Anna has a special interest in personal branding and she believes the road to success is trying. Based in Stockholm, Sweden, she's determined to uncover the secrets of how successful people and companies communicate. She tweets about all things comms, social media and marketing @CoSkills and writes for SteamFeed.com once a month. She holds a bachelor's degree in psychology. Contact her at communicateskills@gmail.com.

7 Responses to People Don’t Like To Read. Stop Upset Them With Text! [Introducing the tl;dr section]

  1. MK says:

    tl;dr should be at the beginning 😉

    • Anna Rydne says:

      Thank you for your input, Janja! I’ve been pondering on that, but decided to put it at the end as an option for those who don’t know when they start if they’ll read the entire post or not. Perhaps I follow your advice later. Let’s just begin to see how this works out!

  2. Anna: David Olgivy once said the same thing in relation to advertising. But he also wrote a full, one page ad, all text, that sold very well. The key thing he said was that the text needed to be of interest to the prospect. Text isn’t dead, we just have to do what was advised above – cut the crap.

    • Anna Rydne says:

      Thank you Michael for your thoughtful comment! You’re right – relevance is key to engaging your readers. So let’s cut everything that is not!

  3. Anne, http://communicateskills.com/ is the gift that keeps on giving! Happy Anniversary! – (crawling back from a busy couple of weeks), how goes the book?

    • Anna Rydne says:

      Thank you Gordon, both for the sweet comment and for making me think of the first year anniversary! I’m writing on the book really intense at the moment. In a couple of weeks, I will share your feeling of crawling back I hope! 🙂

  4. Andrea Crego says:

    How about a tl;dr link at the top, linked to the tl;dr section at the end? Make it a consistent part of the header – people will know they can expect it there and use it at their discretion. 🙂
    Lovely blog btw, so glad I found you!

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