Public relations, Writing

Catering to a tl;dr society

Kate Potter writes…

If you’ve spent much time on the Internet, there’s no doubt you’ve come across a phenomenon that’s been making its way into the mainstream: “tl;dr”.

“tl;dr”, or simply “TLDR”, stands for “too long; didn’t read”. It was first used by social media users as a “come back” of sorts when someone posted a comment, article or story that the commenter thought was literally too long. Too much information, too many words – they were basically saying “I don’t have the time for this” or “I can’t be bothered”.

I can’t tell you the frustration I got when my husband started sending “TLDR” emails in response to mine 😉

Over time, however, the meaning of TLDR has evolved, it is now also being used by writers as a proactive measure: added as a footnote to the end of their text. A one line summary of their writing, it caters to the lazy / mildly interested / time-poor of their audience. (There are millions of examples out there, but here’s one.)

So my question is, with online catering to a TLDR audience, is that the way our media-consumption is heading? Are we going to become a society of TLDRers? And how can we cater to TLDRers?

Headlines are read, first paragraphs are skimmed through, decisions are made whether or not to continue reading before the end of the third sentence. YouTube videos with 10 seconds fade-in introductions are more likely to be clicked out of than sat through. Websites with splash pages? No more. Who has time for the extra click?

I think PR professionals do it better than most. PR has always catered for a TLDR audience, even if it didn’t have a catchy name. “Describe the story in five words” was one piece of advice I was given when I first got a job in PR. “All your essential information should be in the first two sentences”, I was told. We need to be experts at capturing the attention of our audience in a split second.

We need constant reminding on this though. Here’s one article that you should definitely take the time to read through, it’s one of my favourites and I refer back to it often. A Manifesto of a Simple Scribe reminds us that “no one will ever complain because you have made something too easy to understand”. And besides, apparently simple writing makes you look smart.

“I have made this letter longer than usual, because I lack the time to make it short” — Blaise Pascal

TL;DR: Society’s attention spans are shrinking. PR professionals need to cater to this by capturing the attention of their audience quickly and keeping their writing compelling and simple.

Hughes PR is a communications and public relations consultancy with proven and extensive experience in publicity and media relations, issues management, crisis management, digital media and social media strategy and implementation, community consultation, event management, media training, publications and strategic problem solving. Find out more.


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