Have you seen either of these abbreviations in any of your online reading lately?


Personally, I’ve been seeing them more frequently. I first came across TL;DR at the bottom of an interesting article a few months back. I had to look it up because I had no idea what it meant.

For those that don’t know, they both stand for ’Too Long, Didn’t/Not Read.’ This abbreviation is usually followed by a short bullet point summary of what’s gone before.

Apparently, its usage originated on internet discussion forums a decade ago. It was primarily used to show contempt for an overly long reply in a thread.

That makes a lot of sense. I wouldn’t want to waste my time wading through much of what’s written in such environments.

But, like a virus, it seems to be spreading.

What started as a way for readers to comment negatively
has now been adopted by the writers themselves.

I wondered why.

Why as a writer would you encourage readers to not read what you’d written? More than that, why reward them for doing so?

This is what I discovered.

Multiple internet sources told me that human attention span is at its lowest ever.

A lot of these sources referred to a Microsoft study carried out in 2015, that concluded the average human being had an attention span of eight seconds. The study claimed that there had been a sharp decrease from the average attention span of 12 seconds in the year 2000. It concluded that human attention span decreases by a whopping 88 per cent every year.

Wow, that’s scary. At that rate, goldfish will soon be paying more attention to stuff than us.

But, hang on a second. It’s 2018 now. According to my trusty old Casio calculator, 88% of 8 is 7.04. 88% of 7.04 is 6.19 and 88% of 6.19 is 5.44. That makes a total decrease of 18.67 seconds. So now we must have an attention span of minus 10.67 seconds, right?

Does that mean that most of us no longer have any attention span at all? Does it mean that we’re pressing the channel change on our remotes before the next program has even come on the screen? You don’t do that do you?

Anyway, if that really is the case then TL;DR is past its sell-by date already. We don’t even stay around long enough to read the ’T’.

Surely that couldn’t be right.

So I dug a bit deeper.

I found an article in the UK newspaper ‘The Independent’. Dated December 2017, it was titled ‘Average British attention span is 14 minutes, research finds’.

Of course, I should have known. Spiffing, absolutely top hole, that’s more like it. Microsoft would have used our old colonial cousins for their research, wouldn’t they? Hardly the best choice, what? I mean look at their current President. No really, look. Not only is his attention span none existant but he even does a great goldfish impression when he talks.

So, this Independent article detailed how attention span varies according to the activity.

Finance related meetings and conversations apparently keep our attention for something like 10 minutes. (Good job they didn’t ask me).
Work calls hold us for about 7 before we start doodling.
Social chatting with friends for 29 minutes or so. There were many more examples.

But what about reading? That’s what got me started down this rabbit hole. How long can a writer expect a reader to pay attention?

Try as I might I couldn’t find any research directly relating to that. Nowhere could I find anything that told me what people are prepared to read, and for how long.

Then I realised I didn’t need any research. There’s only one answer – It depends.

It depends on the subject matter and the reader’s interest.

But more than that, it depends on the writer.

If the writer has done his or her job well, the reader will be hooked.

And if the reader has any interest at all in the subject matter, then, of course, they’re going to read it all.

Yes, reading and writing take time, and time is valuable. My writing software tells me that the average reader will have taken 3 minutes to read this blog post.
If you’re one of them, I thank you for giving me those 180 seconds. I hope you don’t think them wasted.

Writing in a way that captures attention is a skill, and it’s one I’m still learning. Only you, the reader can judge if I’m making any progress.

You were right to skip reading. This guy can’t write.

One thought on “TL;NR

  1. Interesting note. I prefer reading about something than listening to a podcast about it or sometimes watching a “vlog”. Generally, even a poor writer’s writing can be read in much less time than listening to a podcast… by a factor of between 4 and 10.

    However, as my eyes have started to have trouble focusing without glasses, reading has become harder.

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