I hate TL;DR

post by MarkusRamikin · 2011-09-20T09:23:39.305Z · score: 21 (54 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 36 comments

It's a minor annoyance but perhaps I am not the only one who feels this way.

I dislike it when we summarize our posts and articles with a "tl;dr". There's a perfectly good English word for it, namely "summary".

"tl;dr", besides being an ugly internetism, seems to me to convey a certain additional meaning, over the neutral "summary". If, as happens on the rest of the web, a commenter responds to a post with "tl;dr", it expresses an expectation to be entertained without exercising the reader's attention span or making him think. It's also an easy and insulting way to respond to someone you disagree with, avoiding having to process their argument and maybe change your mind.

If an author uses it in their own article, it seems to me to be pandering to the same expectation, apologising for actually having something to say that takes a few paragraphs to explore properly. Less Wrong, a community consisting largely of above average people in terms of intelligence and ability to follow detailed arguments, is the last place I'd like or expect to see that attitude validated. If your post has substance and says something I didn't know/think before, of course it will take work - apparently even in the thermodynamic sense - to process it...

It's particularly jarring to see a tl;dr appended to posts that took me only a few seconds to read in full anyway.

Or maybe it's just me. I don't know.



Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by lukeprog · 2011-09-20T11:34:17.336Z · score: 21 (29 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I just checked all my posts and changed all instances of "tl;dr" to "summary".

It turns out there were only two of them, but i do think it is an improvement.

comment by GuySrinivasan · 2011-09-20T16:15:55.610Z · score: 18 (24 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Good to know. But for me, someone who enjoys seeing it, I had to expend effort to divorce the legitimate complaint you have from the fact that you called something I enjoy "an ugly internetism" and then closed your post with "/rant".

comment by RobertLumley · 2011-09-20T16:29:50.858Z · score: 5 (9 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Upvoted for helping me realize exactly why I objected so strongly to this post.

comment by Jack · 2011-09-20T15:12:08.529Z · score: 8 (12 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The original meaning is definitely not something I endorse- but at this point it's just memetic legacy. The letters don't really stand for anything and condescension is gone. If people want to stop using it; great. But don't think it makes enough difference to have a sitewide norm about it, to correct people, or to go back and edit old posts or comments.

comment by Risto_Saarelma · 2011-09-20T12:29:29.696Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It does have the function that it doesn't look like a regular word, so it jumps up at you from the text when you're scanning it quickly, which is exactly the situation which it is for.

Still, an even better effect can be gained by using some formatting on a summary, so there's no real need to persist with unnecessary slang.

comment by pedanterrific · 2011-09-20T12:29:02.526Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It seems to me that there is a large and relevant distinction between "tl;dr" and "in summation" - namely, they signal membership in different groups.

I've only ever used tl;dr to summarize my own comments, and I only do that when I am consciously attempting to signal humility and low status (as shorthand for "I'm a student, not a professor".)

comment by Solvent · 2011-09-20T10:16:14.716Z · score: 6 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I dunno, I don't mind. Tl;dr is really an import from reddit, where people often do say long things which don't need to be read to enjoy the flow of the thread. Here, that isn't quite as important, because of the more intellectual nature of the commenting: you really have to read the whole thing to get the whole point. But occasionally, when you just got linked to a really interesting comment, and all you need to know of the post is a broad outline, they can be effective.

But often, tl;drs are good. It forces you to write a short executive summary, which often prompts you to edit the main body of what you've written. It also allows you to indicate your opinions in a slightly more informal way. They're frequently also humourous, which is always good.

So I don't mind them.

tl;dr: tl;dr is not always a bad thing, imho.

comment by dbaupp · 2011-09-20T11:47:36.420Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think the post is about labelling a summary of a post/comment "tl;dr" rather than just using "summary".

comment by MarkusRamikin · 2011-09-20T10:30:33.683Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I see. I'm not really familiar with reddit. For me tl;dr is mostly associated with trolling, and with lazy readers/authors bending over backwards to lazy readers. I suppose I'm behind the times.

But I agree that summaries are often useful.

comment by Jonathan_Graehl · 2011-09-20T20:27:16.494Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The only reason I don't like tl;dr is because it encourages loitering.[*]

[*] Get off my lawn!

(seriously: people shouldn't be invited to post unconsidered comments about a substantive post, and that's what tl;dr licenses, although some uses are ironic).

comment by atucker · 2011-09-20T16:23:56.440Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Upvoted for clearly expressing a preference, and reasons for having said preference, and being fairly nice about it.

comment by rysade · 2011-09-20T10:17:20.959Z · score: 4 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I agree. I think this will be changing my writing style subtly.

comment by MarkusRamikin · 2011-09-20T16:11:48.083Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Could someone please explain why this comment by rysade got downvoted while lukeprog got 9 upvotes for saying [what appears to me as] much the same thing? I am confused.

EDIT: Thank you for the answers.

comment by Owen · 2011-09-20T16:57:32.096Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Upvoted for noticing your confusion. At least two possible reasons come to mind:

Explanation 1: Luke has made many solid contributions in the past, and such contributors' comments tend to receive more upvotes than others' do, just by a kind of halo effect: "Luke's other posts are good, so he's a good rationalist, so this comment of his must be good too." I don't know how true this is: I've heard the idea suggested by other people here, but I've also seen several examples of top contributors receiving well-deserved downvotes in some cases.

Explanation 2: Luke's comment is genuinely more deserving of upvotes, since rysade's comment uses phrases like "I think" and "subtly changing", which downplay commitment and measurability, respectively, while Luke's comment indicates an explicit change he has already made. Again, I can't really speak for the people who upvoted Luke's comment (not even being one of them myself), but it seems plausible that this is at least one force at work in the disparity.

I don't know how much of each of these two hypotheses is truly at work here, or if there's something else going on that I've missed. (It's easy to come up with what are in my opinion less likely scenarios: Luke has made several phantom accounts to upvote his own comments and/or downvote others' similar comments, or someone else holds a grudge against rysade, etc.)

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2011-09-20T21:26:08.209Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I voted neither of them, but lukeprog is speaking about something concrete that he already did, and rysade is speaking about something that he'll possibly do in the future.

I think that doing stuff and saying you did them is higher-status in this community than talking about hypothetically doing them in the future.

comment by prase · 2011-09-20T16:52:21.629Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Probably because lukeprog has higher status. It's surprisingly hard to overcome innate irrational political voting patterns, even on a website like this one.

I think a comment gets pretty fair karma evaluation here when it contains some non-trivial idea which forces the readers to think about it (although comments of established authors will still fare better because much more people will read them). On the other hand, trivial remarks like the grand-parent or the discussed lukeprog's comment have karma mostly determined by their author's status.

comment by Icelus · 2011-09-22T05:33:00.282Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Chances are it's the halo effect, but one other (admittedly less-likely) explanation is the hope by people here that lukeprog is actively working on improving his writing (and therefore providing higher quality writing that those people will then read) and they want to encourage his effort.

At least that's what I'd come up with as an explanation if I was asked to assume the people voting had thought their vote through.

comment by Jayson_Virissimo · 2011-09-20T09:37:28.897Z · score: 4 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This would be more appropriate as a comment in one of the posts that contains a tl;dr rather than having its own post. I don't like seeing rants on Less Wrong (not that I don't dislike the whole tl;dr thing).

comment by MarkusRamikin · 2011-09-20T10:17:10.413Z · score: 9 (11 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, I didn't want to be jumping down the throat of any particular person.

And I figured since it's about posting habits/norms, maybe there's potential for discussion, so I put it in Discussion...

comment by [deleted] · 2011-09-20T11:21:28.409Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Comment in a open thread might have been best. Though considering there are other people who make meta threads this really isn't a big mistake.

comment by MarkusRamikin · 2011-09-20T13:35:06.711Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Right, I should remember that. I forgot those exist, since I interact with LessWrong mainly via front page and Sequences.

comment by orthonormal · 2011-09-22T17:30:55.876Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't use it myself, but when it appears in a LW post I see it as a moderately self-deprecating way of saying "Summary".

comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2011-09-20T18:48:33.794Z · score: 3 (11 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I managed to resist the temptation to leave here a comment saying only "tl;dr".

comment by pedanterrific · 2011-09-20T18:51:39.128Z · score: 14 (14 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

And so did everyone else.

comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2011-09-21T10:17:19.741Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, I had to make the joke somehow.

comment by shokwave · 2011-09-20T12:47:17.528Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I actually struggled to understand what you were talking about until I realised you were conflating an author using "tl;dr" in place of "summary" with a commenter dismissing a post with "tl;dr".

Then I realised that it's hardly conflating if they're the exact same, extremely unlikely combination of letters and punctuation! Whence my strange distinction between a self-tl;dr and an other-tl;dr? I assume from the different usages. I feel like an author is allowed to malign their own work in this way - a kind of British understatement of the quality of their work. Commenters don't have that allowance.

comment by pedanterrific · 2011-09-20T12:57:31.311Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Er... just to make sure, you do know that 'TL;DR' is short for 'Too Long; Didn't Read', right? So a commenter dismissing a post presumably did not, in fact, Read, and is glorifying ver own ignorance; but an author using tl;dr obviously did Read, since ve wrote.

I think it's the ridiculous implied sarcasm ("I'm so long-winded even I don't have the patience to listen to myself") that makes it seem 'humble' when self-applied.

Edit: These gender-neutral pronouns are really tripping me up.

comment by billswift · 2011-09-20T13:19:39.707Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have seen that as "the definition", but most of the times I have seen TL;DR used, the poster did indeed read the piece; so a better definition may be "TOO LONG; DON'T READ", as in "don't waste your time" the post was over-written for what it contains.

Note that I do think using the word "Summary" is better; I posted a rant a few weeks ago against acronyms, especially short ones that you have to stop to think about their meanings.

comment by pedanterrific · 2011-09-20T13:28:08.835Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, there's definitely a variety of meanings - without naming names, I recently read an exchange on LW where 'tl;dr' was explicitly used as a synonym for 'summary', divorced from either interpretation of the acronym ("I plan on reading that link later, but for now do you have a tl;dr?").

Edit in response to your edit: Yes, well... I don't have to stop and think about its meaning, is the thing.

But I get your point.

comment by shokwave · 2011-09-21T07:04:10.280Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes. An author is allowed to dismiss their own post as too long to be worth reading, but a commentor isn't (unless the piece actually is too long to be worth reading).

comment by Icelus · 2011-09-22T05:39:52.700Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

One thing to keep in mind is that although many seem to be trying to kill it, sarcasm isn't dead and sometimes use of those "internetisms" is meant tongue-in-cheek (I think similar to how 'lower class' language/words/mannerisms sometimes are used by people that normally speak in a more 'upper class' way). Although happening upon an article by someone without reading any of their writing history could cause a person to not know it's in jest.

So you don't necessarily have to get as angry each time you see it.

comment by RobertLumley · 2011-09-20T12:19:48.479Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This is a good suggestion of a third alternative, although one aspect I like about tl;dr is that in a way it "reclaims" the word for polite usage from the rude usage that it's typically associated with.

comment by Dan_Moore · 2011-09-21T16:56:56.097Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I wonder what the clue will be (or was) the first time 'tldr' is included in, say the NY Times crossword puzzle.

comment by pedanterrific · 2011-09-21T17:02:56.460Z · score: 3 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

17 Across: the Wall Street Journal.

comment by wedrifid · 2011-09-22T21:51:14.751Z · score: -3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Bravo! It's a terrible acronym and the expansion thereof rarely makes sense in the context in which it is used.

You have prompted me to declare a pre-emptive downvote for any post with a TL;DR in it.

EDIT: Wow, -3 already? People object to me downvoting based on TL;DR usage? I suppose that is a legitimate preference. Just not mine. Allow me to update - I'd better make it retroactive as well as pre-emptive!

EDIT: Oh, and a bunch of better written posts (by lukeprog and others) just got retroactive upvotes for using "Summary:"