If you’re brave enough to weather the hail of LOLs, WTFs, IMHOs and TMIs spewed out by the Internet, you might find the occasional acronymic gem. Here’s one I can only hope will rise in popularity to become a constant, nagging reminder in the mind of everyone who posts anything online — or writes in any other medium, for that matter: TLDR. (Or, if you prefer your snappy acronyms with punctuation: TL;DR.)

It stands for too long; didn’t read. It started appearing in various web forums and discussion groups about a decade ago, in response to posts that were seen as being overly verbose. Its usage is still not as widespread as I wish it were.

TLDR encapsulates a sentiment that dates back many centuries. Here are two earlier expressions of the same idea:

  • “Brevity is the soul of wit.” —William Shakespeare, Hamlet, 1602
  • “I have made this letter longer than usual, because I lack the time to make it short.” —Blaise Pascal, Lettres Provinciales, 1657

The Shakespeare quote suggests that failure to express a thought in a brief, concise and compelling way is a sign of “witlessness” — a lack of mental alertness and cleverness.

Pascal, the brilliant French writer, mathematician and inventor, alludes to what we today would call a “brain dump,” an unedited stream of verbiage produced for the benefit of the writer, not the reader.

The point: Verbose, overly long pieces of writing are an indication of an unfocused mind — and often, an arrogant and self-centred one, too.

Online writings that evoke the TLDR response are often laden with put-downs of fellow posters, multisyllabic words, obscure references that demonstrate how much smarter than you the writer is, and lengthy background information meant to reveal how ignorant and uninformed you have been.

If you, as a writer, want to avoid the dreaded TLDR (or its more pretentious punctuated synonym, TL;DR, and even — for those who are too cool to capitalize but still have time to find a semicolon — tl;dr), start with these 4 tips:

  • 1. Be confident in the power of your story. State your point once, in clear language. Know that you will be understood.
  • 2. Don’t succumb to the temptation to restate your point differently (unless it will demonstrably add to readers’ understanding) or to disparage those who think otherwise.
  • 3. Be aware of the norms for your medium. In other words, if the average post in a discussion is three or four lines of text, and yours is 30, you are off base. If you are asked for a 300-word article, do not submit 450. Et cetera.
  • 4. Always put the reader first. It’s not all about you. Whether you’re tweeting, posting, blogging or writing a novel, remember that if your readers find your writing dull, arrogant, opaque, disorganized or just too darn long, you’re wasting your time.