Image via Pixabay

Image via Pixabay

I got a glimpse of an internal e-mail from a tech company, an invitation to a social event. At the top was a 2-line bolded summary, headlined “TL;DR.” This was followed by about four paragraphs of text.

TL;DR (also TLDR or tl;dr) is internet slang meaning “too long; didn’t read.” It can be used dismissively (as in your post or comment was so long I didn’t bother reading it) or as a summary for a longer post.

I’ve seen both these uses on online forums, but can we use internet slang in professional e-mails? Apparently, if you work for a tech company, you can.

Necessarily Long E-mails

How many times have I sent out long e-mails? Or received them? A block of text, or paragraphs of it, can be daunting to read, especially if it’s introducing something new or fairly technical. Before you know it, you’ve moved on, maybe thinking you’ll read it later, and the e-mail gets buried beneath others.

As a sometimes-writer of long e-mails, I have to add that it’s often necessary. You want to introduce and thoroughly explain a project or request or change so the recipient understands it. You don’t want five people replying back with questions, or one person with five questions.

And long e-mails aren’t the only thing to dread (or to try to avoid sending). There are also confusingly short e-mails, or the forwarded e-mail where you have to read the entire string below, or the e-mail you’ve been copied on rather late and you have to figure out how it applies to you.

Adopting It For Work

My first thought when I saw the tech company e-mail was: “This is genius!”

It’s great for departmentwide e-mails, especially if your point doesn’t apply to everyone. Think about elective participation in programs, for example. Not interested? Delete. Interested? Read all the details below. Or if it’s something that is best used as a reference, you can decide to file now to review later.

A part of me thinks, “Is this what we’ve come to? Emojis and LOLs and TL;DRs?” But the way we communicate changes, and maybe it’s the most efficient use of your time.

My husband (receiver of the mentioned e-mail) says this summary sentence is often used for mass e-mails within his large company. (It’s sometimes even boxed, so you really can’t miss it.) And with the amount of e-mails he gets, he relies on the TL;DR to determine whether he should keep reading or just ignore it. Unless the TL;DR itself is too long — there’s that to consider too.

Can’t We Just Pick Up the Phone Instead?

We all have different communication preferences. I prefer e-mail for most occasions, instant messaging with my closest contacts, and phone calls on some occasions. A couple of people I communicate with often prefer to call. Sometimes I even get text messages.

Maybe you’re great at skimming, or have manageable e-mail volume, and think the TL;DR idea is unnecessary. Maybe you’ve seen it used or used it yourself and think I’ve been slow to pick up on this. Even bolding the main idea in an e-mail helps you achieve the same result.

Workplace communication has changed drastically since e-mail use became common. Since I joined Bobit Business Media nine years ago, the amount of e-mail I receive has grown exponentially. I tend to at least skim all e-mails, which makes for a lot of reading. In many cases, a summary would be helpful.

Our goal should be to communicate with clarity and, when possible, with brevity. I know I’ll be thinking more about summary sentences, or when possible, more concise e-mails.

TL;DR: Have you considered a “summary” sentence for long written communications?

About the author
Thi Dao

Thi Dao

Former Executive Editor

Thi is the former executive editor of Government Fleet magazine.

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