Teal deer get plenty of attention
There’s an internet phenomenon called tl;dr that I absolutely love.
If you’ve haven’t ventured onto Reddit or a forum recently, tl;dr (pronounced ‘teal deer’) is short for ‘too long; didn’t read’. It started off life as an insult to chuck at anyone who posted walls of text, but it’s eventually evolved into something far more useful. Now, if you notice a post you’re writing has rambled a tad, you just write tl;dr at the end and add a really short summary.
Basically, it’s anticipating all the comments from people moaning about the length of your post and writing a mini version for them. The only problem is that it’s at the wrong end of people’s writing – it should be up front, so readers don’t have to trawl to find it.
It’s nothing new
Journalists do this all the time. It’s called a nutgraph. It’s meant to sum up your whole article in one paragraph – but it goes at the top, not the bottom.
It’s a great way to start off a document, because you’re telling people what to expect from the rest, and saving them from wasting their time reading if it doesn’t interest them. (And it means they can skimread the first bits and pretend to have read everything in the news when they’re down the pub.)
So the next time you’re writing something – a long email say, or a report – try it out. Write a summary paragraph for the person who otherwise wouldn’t bother reading the whole thing. And bung it at the top.