Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Embracing TL;DR

If you spend any significant time consuming content on the web, you have probably come across the initialism tl;dr. It stands for "too long; didn't read." It means pretty much what it says. Whatever message you were trying to communicate was not received, because you demanded too much of the reader's time, attention, or focus.

Now, some may read that and think, "sheesh, people have such short attention spans today!" I would challenge you to flip that thought on its head. More often than not, tl;dr is a symptom of poor presentation of content, not the consumer of that content, i.e., the product/content is the  problem, not the user.

A piece of writing is a product. If you construct content in a way that does not keep your audience engaged long enough to make your point, then your content may be a flawed product. And being verbose can absolutely create flawed content.

Trying to say too much at once

This is a common problem it's usually not what was intended. The creator starts out with a clean, simple, concise concept and it just blows up as they write. The good news is that the solution is simple - break it up into manageable chunks. The right size for the chunk will depend on your audience, content, and the medium through which you deliver it (e.g., Twitter vs. a blog).

Example: The Problem of Front-Loading "Help"

We all want our users to have a clear understanding and happily use our products.  So, we include information to explain what they need to know. Then a confused user comes along, and we add some more instructions, and this repeats.

If continue down this path, our screens very quickly become walls of text, obscuring what the user needs to know rather than highlighting it. A straightforward solution to this is to strip out and relocate that content; some options:

  • On-demand content hidden and accessed contextually via information icons
  • Pushing bulkier instructions into a wiki or "knowledge database"
  • Drop the help text altogether and address it with support services or a community forum

Going into further detail would quickly make this an example of tl;dr, but I will offer one last thought on it. A common phrase in the world of UX (user experience) about user interfaces is - "If you have to explain it, it's not that good." My mantra is a slight variation on that:

If you have to explain it, it's not that intuitive

Challenge yourself to be as concise as possible.

No comments:

Post a Comment