Wikipedia:Too long; didn't read

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

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


Too long; didn't read (abbreviated tl;dr and tldr, bastardized Teal Deer) is a shorthand notation added by an editor indicating a passage appeared to be too long to invest the time to digest. Long used on the Internet,[2] it has birthed the wikilink TL;DR to indicate a cited passage is being protested. Wall of text is kindred.

The tl;dr label is sometimes used constructively by an author to introduce a short summation of a longer piece.[3] However, it is all too often invoked as a tactic to thwart collaborative editing, or, worse, a stoop to ridicule.

This essay examines tl;dr as used in Wikipedia discussions, offering insight into the cause of excessive length, suggestions on how to reduce it, and a reminder to always exercise civility with other editors when paring.

Reasons for length[edit]

Many people who edit Wikipedia do so because they enjoy writing; however, that passion can result in overlong composition. 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 often be 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] Or 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]

Some policies and procedures can encourage overlong prose due to imposing arbitrary limits. The Did you know? process requires established articles to have a fivefold expansion of prose within a seven day window to be considered for listing on the main page. This can encourage over-verbose writing to game the system.

Einstein described the challenge of making a theory as simple as possible while still explaining all empirical cases, often paraphrased "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no 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] Similar in sentiment is the injunction "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, encountered or not. Take the time to distill your own thoughts: this will result in more effective communication and build rapport with your readers.

Reducing wordiness[edit]

Excessively long Wikipedia passages should be trimmed if redundant or split into another article when 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 (such as Geoffrey K. Pullum in posts at Language Log) criticize Strunk & White's advice "omit needless words" in the fear that unskilled editors may mistake even necessary length for dross and delete it. Strunk and White, however, were unambiguous that concision does not require "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 offer advice there.

Avoid ad hominems. 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 acronym. When illumination, patience, and wisdom are called for, answer with them.

See also[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". Retrieved 2014-08-18. 
  4. ^ "Study: Simple Writing Makes You Look Smart". 2005-10-31. Retrieved 2012-04-13. 
  5. ^ "...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. Retrieved 2008-05-13. 

External links[edit]