As of lately, the abbreviation "tl; dr" (Too long; didn't read) has been used more and more on the site, which I dislike for four reasons.

  1. It cannot be seen as a standard, well-known abbreviation, and is basically internet slang.
  2. For a site that aims to be a "a question and answer site for biology researchers, academics, and students" it sets a bad precedent by saying that you don't really need to go into details to understand an issue.
  3. It is superfluous. People can skip/skim text if they want to, and in well-structured answers it should be easy to pick out the most important parts.
  4. Using it in your own answer is vague, and it is most suitable to label wall-of-text, i.e. used as a label with negative connotations.

I've almost edited out 'tl;dr' from answers before, but didn't because I'm unsure about how the BioSE community feels. Ideas and suggestions? Am I just being boring and old?

To me, removing/editing-out 'tl;dr' it would be similar to removing "Thanks in advanzze!!!" in questions and smilys in answers - basically to discourage chatty questions/answers and informal language.

Finally, it you feel the need to flag the most important parts of your answer, what is wrong with "Short answer:"?


1 Answer 1


Sure we can discourage it but will that actually do anything? Moderators aren't here to edit verbage (unless it is disrespectful, hate speech, profanity, etc), and when they do a fire storm can brew, see this meta post on an outside mod correcting a questions wording on a math post. @madscientists has already seen the craziness since he was in the comment mix.

Therefore, even if we discourage it, we can't stop people from using it. If mods edit their post because they feel it shouldn't be there, that can cause an uproar (see linked post). If a community member edits a post because they don't think it should be there, that could cause animosity, resent, etc between the users and potentially arguments which will require moderator intervention.

What should we do about this? Probably just ignore it since it causes no harm.

  • $\begingroup$ We're not Math SE, that site is unique in their sensitivity to any action by an SE employee on their site. If we decide to avoid tl;dr here, I doubt editing it out would cause much trouble. $\endgroup$ Feb 5, 2015 at 20:50
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @MadScientist in the same token, I didn't think SE employees edit would have caused a meta thread with such a heated debated. We can't really say it wouldn't happen here. We would have to experience it first to see what the outcome is. I was just giving a example of what can happen when members disagree with such an edit. $\endgroup$
    – dustin
    Feb 5, 2015 at 20:52
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    $\begingroup$ First, I'm probably overreacting a bit (just searched and could only find 15 instances of use here at BioSE). Second, my point isn't what we can stop. There are lots of things we cannot stop (answers only consisting of quotes, poor formatting, etc) - but we can still discuss what we want with the site and what standards to encourage. Isn't that part of the point of Meta? I agree that editing wars isn't a god solution. Third, we do edit out some things already. Txtspeak is removed even on SO, even though parts of SO's community is arguably more prone to txtspeak than on many other SE-sites. $\endgroup$ Feb 5, 2015 at 22:27
  • $\begingroup$ @fileunderwater yes of course we can discuss what we would like but changes like this would be hard to enforce since it is purely stylistic. The OP keeps rolling back their post every time it is edited out there is nothing we can really do or should do since moderator intervention isn't warranted here. On math, we want everyone to use LaTeX but we can't force them too and I have seen OP roll back LaTeX added to their post, and if it is added again, they roll it back again. The mods then just say leave it be. So what I see is if we can't truly enforce, why try to change it? I don't agree.... $\endgroup$
    – dustin
    Feb 5, 2015 at 22:34
  • $\begingroup$ with tl;dr it is just laziness but oh well. If someone wants to be lazy, their answer may be wrong which will incur downvotes and either system deletion or OP deletion. $\endgroup$
    – dustin
    Feb 5, 2015 at 22:35
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    $\begingroup$ On English Language & Usage, which should avoid internet slang as much as any site, we do use it. Personally, I'm fine with it. Some people just want a short answer. Some want more. Their choice. It seems an affectation to edit tl;dr out as not serious when we don't down vote questions like this one out of existence. $\endgroup$ Feb 6, 2015 at 4:35
  • $\begingroup$ @anongoodnurse it doesn't really bother me but trying to enforce not using it, if that is the consensus, would seem down right impossible. I think downvotes will increase when the site grows to the point where no effort questions run rampant and user become angry with so little effort. $\endgroup$
    – dustin
    Feb 6, 2015 at 4:41
  • $\begingroup$ @dustin - if the consensus is against it, I'm fine with that as well. $\endgroup$ Feb 6, 2015 at 5:11
  • $\begingroup$ @anongoodnurse One thing doesn't depend on the other - I routinely downvote similar questions, but many apparently do not. My question could just as well be extended to a larger issue on accepted language. How do you feel about leetspeak or txtspeak? Its likely that many users that don't understand 'tl;dr' recognize some txtspeak - should both be ok in answers? Also consider that BioSE is an international site, and using obscure internet slang/abbreviations makes posts less accessible to many non-native english speakers. $\endgroup$ Feb 6, 2015 at 9:02
  • $\begingroup$ @dustin You cannot prohibit people from being racist jerks at the lunch table either, but you can still discourage the behaviour as a community. Enforcing is not everything. (meant as a general point and obviously not as a comparison to using 'tl;dr'...). $\endgroup$ Feb 6, 2015 at 9:09
  • $\begingroup$ @fileunderwater - they are associated: are we "researchers, academics and students" or not? If we are so serious that we should avoid tl;dr (which is not really very obscure, and even if not known, is not harmful to the answer) but entertain questions of sometimes astonishingly poor quality? They are certainly connected in my mind; not dependent, but connected. EL&U is also an international site. There is no harm done by it's use except for "appearances", which is trumped by quality in my book. $\endgroup$ Feb 6, 2015 at 9:23
  • $\begingroup$ @anongoodnurse One thing at the time, and its not like I don't agree with you about poor questions. Also I'm not saying that "...we are so serious..." - I'm merely asking about/discussing language standards. Our options are no standards, silent norms, or standards based on ongoing discussions. The last option is difficult to have if it is conditioned on all other site practices. Anyway, this is a minor thing, and I've stated my preference. $\endgroup$ Feb 6, 2015 at 10:04
  • $\begingroup$ I think it is OK to use it. I came across this slang for the first time in meta (as I started as a meta user) and learnt what it means. It has since then gotten stuck with me. Some questioners do not look for technical answers, so using tl;dr or short answer helps them very much $\endgroup$
    – One Face
    Feb 18, 2015 at 14:24

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