Wikipedia:Too long; didn't read

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I have made this letter longer than usual, because I lack the time to make it short

— Blaise Pascal[1]

Overly long and/or unformatted statements present fellow editors with a dilemma: spend excessive time parsing out what a writer meant or be mildly rude by not actually reading what was written. It is generally held that lengthy writing is a sign that the writer didn't take the time to sufficiently distill their thoughts, birthing the shorthand TL;DR to indicate the piece in question is being protested.

The phrase too long; didn't read (abbreviated tl;dr or simply tldr) has long been used on the Internet as a reply to an overlong statement indicating the reader did not actually read it due to its excessive length.[2] Wall of text is a Wikipedia cousin. This essay examines tl;dr as used in Wikipedia discussions, and offers methods for fixing the underlying problem when encountered.

As a label, tl;dr is sometimes used as a tactic to thwart the kinds of discussion which are essential in collaborative editing. On the other hand, it may represent a shorthand acknowledgement of time saved by skimming over or skipping repetitive or poorly written material. Thus, the implication of the symbol can range from abandoning a brilliant and informative discourse due to a lack of endurance, interest, or intelligence, to a composition so obtuse it threatens the capable reader with a headache; judging this range is very subjective.

The label is sometimes used by an author to introduce a short summation of a longer piece.[3]

Reasons for length[edit]

Many people who edit Wikipedia do so because they enjoy writing; however, that passion can result in overlong composition. Principally, this reflects a lack of time or commitment to refine an effort through successively more concise drafts. With some application natural redundancies and digressions can usually be effectively eliminated. Recall the venerable paraphrase of Pascal, "I made this so long because I did not have time to make it shorter."

A second contributing factor can be that a writer incorrectly believes long sentences and big words make them appear learned.[4] Oppositely, an inexperienced contributor may fear they will not be clear enough with fewer words. Even capable authors recognize the risk of distorting what they're trying to express in too brief passages.[5]

Albert Einstein described the challenge of making a theory as simple as possible without failing to explain all empirical cases, often paraphrased "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler." Pursuing Occam's razor is especially difficult when faced with corner cases.

A trusted aphorism states that "brevity is the soul of wit."[6] A similar injunction instructs to simply "omit needless words."[7] Editors are encouraged to write concisely and use plain vocabulary when at all possible, always keeping in mind English may not be a reader's native tongue. Technical jargon should be avoided except where it is integral to an article's meaning. If length in an article is essential, a short summary is advised.

While bloated composition may reflect a writer felt their time writing was more valuable than yours will be reading, some people are constitutionally loquacious. It is impossible for you as an editor to affect either of these before the fact, only after. When editing, always respect Wikipedia policies and user sensitivities if encountered. Take the time to distill your own thoughts: not only will this result in more effective communication it will build rapport with your readers.

Reducing wordiness[edit]

Excessively long Wikipedia passages should be trimmed if redundant) or split it into another article if appropriate. See: summary style and WP:SPINOFF. Be clear before excising copy that it can't be refined and kept. Tagging bloated plot summaries at movie, book, and play pages with the {{plot}} template is not as good as winnowing them yourself.

Some linguists (notoriously Geoffrey K. Pullum) criticize Strunk & White's advice "omit needless words" in the fear that unskilled editors may perceive all loquaciousness and redundancy as valueless and delete it. Strunk and White, however, were unambiguous that concision does not require "that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell." Deleting is not always equivalent to improving, and intelligently differentiating the cases deserves care.

Maintain civility[edit]

Being too quick to pointedly mention this essay in an exchange with a wordy author will come across as dismissive and rude. Preferably, create a section on their talk page and politely engage them there.

Substituting a flippant "tl;dr" for reasoned response and cordiality stoops to ridicule and amounts to thought-terminating cliché. Just as one cannot prove through verbosity, neither can they wielding a four letter wikilink. When illumination, patience, and wisdom are called for, answer with them.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Lettres Provinciales (1656-1657), no. 16.
  2. ^ "Too long didn't read". Urban Dictionary. Retrieved 2008-05-13. 
  3. ^ Soonmme (2008-07-14). "UrbanDictionary, definition #7". UrbanDictionary.com. Retrieved 2014-08-18. 
  4. ^ "Study: Simple Writing Makes You Look Smart". Livescience.com. 2005-10-31. Retrieved 2012-04-13. 
  5. ^ http://www.npr.org/blogs/13.7/2014/02/03/270680304/this-could-have-been-shorter "...writers may err towards wordiness out of concern that short prose which is not carefully edited (at high time cost) would oversimplify, to the point of distorting or omitting, or carry a higher risk of being misunderstood"
  6. ^ Shakespeare, William (1992). Hamlet. New York: Washington Square Press. p. 89.  Act 2, Scene 2, line 90: "Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit..."
  7. ^ Strunk, William (1918). "Elementary Principles of Composition". The Elements of Style. Bartleby.com. Retrieved 2008-05-13. 

External links[edit]