I've seen several answers that begin with "tl;dr" or "TLDR". I had to look up what this means. The Urban Dictionary says "too long; didn't read".

Examples (but not the worst ones, which I can't find again):



This seems like incredibly bad form to me. Aside from being cryptic geek-speak, I cannot tell who wrote it, or what it is supposed to communicate. I can imagine two possibilities:

1) The questioner wrote it to inform the answerer that their answer rambled. If so, it is disrespectful, obtuse, and this should be a comment under the answer.

2) The answerer wrote it to indicate that they are providing a synopsis of what they wrote. If this is the case, they should be writing in plain english.

My instinct is to delete this with prejudice. Is there any reason we should tolerate this at Skeptics?

addendum: This notation is clearly accepted among this community as a jokish Netizen idiom, so it is what it is. Having read the responses, I have these parting thoughts on the topic.

1) Many scientists make a conscious effort to avoid jargon when speaking with non-experts, (and even experts) based on the belief that it interferes with communication. They believe that gratuitous use of jargon ("fancy words") creates the impression of pretentiousness and exclusivity. Some have even attempted to quantify the amount of jargon, or created communication games such as Up Goer Five, to help train scientists in avoiding jargon (FWIW, I gave up when I discovered that "plant" was not an allowed word). Even aside from scientific jargon, many other writers have developed tools to help them make their writing more accessible. These issues were also discussed by George Orwell in his essay "politics and the English Language" (tl;dr) this stuff matters.

2) The notation "tl;dr" has been added to the Oxford Online Dictionary. I still think it's a fad existing within a narrow subculture, and it looks like some sort of misformatted markup rather than an abbreviation of a phrase. More than once, I've failed to communicate when I've used abbreviations like FWIW or BTW, even though those are the initials of words in common phrases. In contrast, the definition of tl;dr is extremely derived, and of recent origin.

3) Use of TL;DR at the beginning of a comment is probably not needed most of the time. That is also where I found it to be the most distracting/confusing. Many commonly taught writing styles emphasize that the first paragraph should contain a succinct statement of the thesis, so there is no need to warn readers that you are doing so. For instance: The Five Paragraph Essay, and the Inverted Pyramid (journalism)

p.s. I feel like this rant should go on my personal profile page, but that doesn't seem to be how things are done here.

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    IMO you'll find that it's invariably case 2). – ChrisW Nov 25 '13 at 11:47
  • Is there a better tag for this discussion? I added a 'style' tag, but nobody had used that. Is there any sort of syle-guide for the website? – adam.r Nov 25 '13 at 21:13
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    I guess that tag is 'standards'. – ChrisW Nov 25 '13 at 21:44
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    I know I used it on my Torture answer because the answer itself kept getting expanded as people added comments and asked additional questions and clarifications on my original citations. And since we're all communicating on the internet as it is, and too many people view skeptics as humourless, I do my best to keep some levity in things and TL;DR is self-depreciating and harmless. :) – Larian LeQuella Nov 26 '13 at 3:28
  • An assay complaining about the use of "tl;dr" but uses it, as well as the abbreviation "FWIW". "(tl;dr) this stuff matters.". – SIMEL Jan 24 '14 at 12:27

I agree that we should just use plain english and summarize. A good summary in an introductory or concluding paragraph will make it clear that it is a summary. You can say "In summary,", or just even just state the summary without saying that it's a summary.

Even if this is a well-understood acronym by some people, it's not as widely understood as "in summary". We should strive to produce better content than the rest of the internet.

However, it's too minor an edit to justify on its own (i.e. going through all answers to remove TL;DR). If you're making more substantive changes to a question or answer that includes "TL;DR", go ahead and fix it at the same time.

  • +1. Also TL;DR: is 6 chars. Summary: is 8 chars. In a tweet I can see sometimes needing 2 char. But it is worth those extra 2 chars to speak English here, for posterity, and to make use of our nice big screens. – Paul Jan 23 '14 at 12:30

You haven't linked to any specific questions/answers so its hard to generalize but I see this usually on answers where the actual answer is long (often by necessity) and the author wanted to give a short answer at the very top.

It usually means "This answer is long, but if you're the cliffs notes sort of person read this one liner for the answer"

I don't personally see it as rude, that's probably because I've done it myself. Lets see what others think.

  • Thanks for the response. I have added examples, but I had omitted them from the original post because I wanted to get information about how this should be used in general, not feedback on whether particular posts are using it correctly. I only thought that it was rude if it was an edit to the original answer. – adam.r Nov 25 '13 at 20:16

TL;DR means Too Long; Didn't Read and is Internet slang for summary. It's self-deprecating humor, which is common in "hackerese". The joke is that if you, the reader, think that the answer is too long and don't want to read, the following paragraph is the executive summary.

There is no need to burn it.

  • I agree that self-use of tl;dr is self-deprecating: it's along the lines of "sorry this is so long, I wasn't able to make it shorter". – ChrisW Nov 25 '13 at 14:11
  • -1, it is unprofessional. It might be more appropriate on Meta Stack Overflow, or even Meta Skeptics. It shouldn't be public facing for new visitors on the main site if you want to be taken seriously by people who aren't into hacker culture. – Paul Jan 23 '14 at 11:10
  • @Paul there are no professional skeptics... – Sklivvz Jan 23 '14 at 11:11
  • A few professional skeptics (and hoaxsters) are part-time or full-time writers. Carl Sagan's effort on "The Demon Haunted World" comes to mind as "professional" in this sense. I speculate Random House, the publisher still prefers "Summary:" to "TL;DR:" – Paul Jan 23 '14 at 11:21
  • @Paul agreed, but we are not Random House. Currently the site is very informal and TL;DR is appropriate to the tone of the site. If there's good reason to change the tone of the site, you need to argue your position in a separate question, a comment or a vote on a random answer won't change anything, don't you think? – Sklivvz Jan 23 '14 at 11:27
  • I think editing for grammar would suffice. I did that first, then wondered about it, and came here. Nevertheless I appreciate your advice about how things work around here. – Paul Jan 23 '14 at 11:30

It’s common jargon on the internet. I generally agree about using plain English but trying to stamp out internet vernacular on the … internet is (a) a lost cause and (b) not worth it.

What’s more, some abbreviations have entered common speech, and “tl;dr” is certainly one of them. Language evolves, new words are invented all the time. While I agree that we should strive to write in a way that is generally understandable, abbreviations like “LOL” and “tl;dr” are generally understandable on the internet.

Finally, “tl;dr”, when used on this site (and elsewhere) carries none of the connotations you seem to associate with it. Etymologically it once did (and in some discussions may still). Usually it’s imply a synonym for “summary”.

tl;dr: There’s nothing wrong with using “tl;dr”.

  • Don't we strive to create better content than the rest of the internet, though? – user5582 Nov 25 '13 at 16:39
  • @Articuno Yes. But I believe that “tl;dr” is no better or worse than other words. Using it is perfectly fine. – Konrad Rudolph Nov 25 '13 at 16:44
  • It's worse because adam.r had confusion about its meaning. – user5582 Nov 25 '13 at 16:44
  • @Articuno Maybe not by this particular word, but maybe by another one? We cannot possibly ban all words which could possibly confuse people – there’d be nothing left. The only relevant measure is whether a word is commonly understood. “tl;dr” is. – Konrad Rudolph Nov 25 '13 at 16:46
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    I did not suggest a ban. All style guides suggest using simple language over complex language. Or use the simplest words that carry the message. "In summary" is simpler than TL;DR. – user5582 Nov 25 '13 at 16:46
  • @Articuno If you insist. Then replace “ban” by “avoidance” in my previous comment, nothing changes. – Konrad Rudolph Nov 25 '13 at 16:47
  • You don't think we should avoid possibly confused words when they have a clear alternative? – user5582 Nov 25 '13 at 16:48
  • It's not like there's a level of understandability above which all words are equal. There is a spectrum, and the more simple, more widely understood, less confusing word should be preferred. Sure, let's not go and edit TL;DR out of everything (to stamp it out), but if you're making edits to something anyway, why not make that change too? – user5582 Nov 25 '13 at 16:52
  • “You don't think we should avoid possibly confused words when they have a clear alternative?” – Absolutely. But I also know that language is constantly evolving and “tl;dr” is so firmly established in internet conversation that it has become a word that is as commonly used as – or even more commonly than – “summary”. Using it is a question of personal style, not clarity, and I oppose editing personal style. Sure, it confused the OP. But data point does not a statistic make. We of all people should know that. – Konrad Rudolph Nov 25 '13 at 16:56
  • let us continue this discussion in chat – user5582 Nov 25 '13 at 16:58
  • @Articuno I have trouble logging into the SE chat (Stack Overflow works fine, but not the rest of the sites) and I think I’ve said most of what I had to say. Just two more remarks: I don’t assume users will be familiar with internet jargon. But I do assume that they should familiarise themselves with internet customs when using it. I don’t think catering to “internet budget tourism” is healthy. And secondly, offline dictionaries are simply not particularly relevant when attempting to reflect internet language. In fact, they are entirely obsolete in this regard. – Konrad Rudolph Nov 25 '13 at 21:34

I've typed TL;DR it to synopsize my own answer, because I've seen other people do it: a sort of in-joke. I'm not proud of it. If I want to do it again, perhaps I should use the word "Summary" instead.

Summary: the claim is true because bar and baz.

Details details lorem ipsum etc.

You can tell who wrote what (the original author, or someone else) by looking at the questions's or answer's edit history.

enter image description here

  • Thank you for that image. This is something I hadn't figured out yet (though I'm guessing you had posted this image on our chat discussion), and couldn't find documented. I had assumed it was something that needed to be unlocked with reputation. – adam.r Nov 25 '13 at 20:23
  • I actually think that it is typically unneccesary to provide any preface, since it is normal for people to first provide a succinct answer and then get into details. Your experience gets at one of the issues that has been confusing me: is this site here to build a resource for the general public (a la Wikipedia), or is a niche community ("in group") site for people who want to discuss this stuff. Based on everything you have told me I think the answer to the question depends on whether we are talking about the ideals of the "top people", the ideals of the community, or the actual practice. – adam.r Nov 25 '13 at 20:31
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    @adam.r When I write an essay I usually explore the details and finally write my conclusion after I discover it. A couple of years ago someone suggested that I move my conclusion to the top (which is what you suggested: "first provide a succinct answer and then get into details"). – ChrisW Nov 25 '13 at 20:56
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    @adam.r There's a bit of description here about who we're writing for: easy reading level, high-school-level general knowledge, 1000 readers for some questions. Nevertheless you want to do whatever you can to keep the regular contributors comfortable. You have a point, i.e. that that TL;DR may confuse some internet users; but, "Deleting with prejudice" might be (e.g. according to all the mods) over-reacting. Being a style-Nazi isn't worth the risk (of losing people). I even think you would lose something if you tried to ... – ChrisW Nov 25 '13 at 21:28
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    ... homogenize the writing style at the expense of losing individual 'voices'. – ChrisW Nov 25 '13 at 21:33

Questions may be edited by anyone. Please help create a wonderful library of questions in readable, proper English that all future visitors can enjoy.

Do not downvote for grammar. Instead, salvage useful questions and vote to close the hopeless ones.

When you see "TL;DR -- OMG -- LOL" this sort of thing, just fix it! The site will look so much better. If you are challenged with an edit war on grammar, don't perpetuate it to force your version, retreat to comments or meta and await reinforcements which are sure to arrive.

That means if you see "TL;DR:" you may change it to "Summary:" or some other appropriate word, and perhaps also fix these if you see them:

  • Personal pronoun "i" --> "I"
  • no capital letters commas lack of periods to end sentences

An example that is fine if you are tweeting from a cell phone to your buddies:


Here I'd imagine this is actually an acceptable question, to be edited to:

Did the Mars Rover photograph this Squirrel or Rat on Mars?

It might then be closed as duplicate or answered

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