Should users with short attention spans be catered to? Ooh, is that a squirrel?

The Question

Should users be encouraged to begin their question with a TL;DR summary, rather than end with it?


If the question is sufficiently complex to warrant a summary, I'd think that it should be placed at the top of the question so it could be seen in the preview. I'm wondering if that's a change I should start making when editing posts.

  • 7
    Can you provide a TL;DR section, please? Commented Jun 21, 2012 at 14:12
  • @UristMcBobby. People are wasting their time, no one ever pasting TL;DR sections will ever read this post nor follow it...
    – user173320
    Commented Jun 21, 2012 at 14:14
  • You didn't actually need to ask a question about this - this can be suggested to users on a question by question basis. Like I did here, although it could be worded more succinctly.
    – slugster
    Commented Jun 21, 2012 at 20:23
  • @slugster Yeah, but you asked for the summary at the bottom of the question. Commented Jun 21, 2012 at 20:27

5 Answers 5


It's called The Inverted Pyramid model. You start with the important bits and logically flow into the details.

The inverted pyramid is a metaphor used by journalists and other writers to illustrate the placing of the most important information first within a text. It is a common method for writing news stories and is widely taught to journalism students.The "inverted" or upside-down "pyramid" can be thought of as a simple triangle with one side drawn horizontally at the top and the body pointing down. The widest part at the top represents the most substantial, interesting, and important information the writer means to convey, illustrating that this kind of material should head the article, while the tapering lower portion illustrates that other material should follow in order of diminishing importance.

See also Should we use the Inverted Pyramid model for answers? by an excellent author over on Cognitive Sciences.

Appending a "TL;DR" header is a bit of a sloppy way to do it, but certainly not unheard of on the internet.

If you put the TL;DR block at the bottom of the post you're doing it wrong, if I go TL;DR I will skip past the bottom of your post. Summaries are perfectly fine at the bottom of the post of course, but they're useless as leads for obvious reasons.

  • TLDR - I think you should put it at the top. :P Commented Jun 6, 2013 at 3:50
  • I did read it just now to be nice. How about putting it after the first paragraph? After the introduction? I too have seen it in various places and I agree it looks sloppy as the first line. Commented Jun 6, 2013 at 3:52

Given that the first part of a question is what gets shown in the list of questions (and email lists of new questions) it's a great idea to make sure this gives some context to the question. It's your hook to draw the attention of the people you want to read and answer it, so use it wisely! If it looks interesting and well thought out it's probably going to improve views and as a consequence answers.

I wouldn't use the phrase TL;DR though - it's noise and instantly wastes 5 characters of the short introduction that gets shown. People reading the list will naturally make the assumption that it's just an introduction if there's an implication of more depth to the question.

(As an aside it might be nice if there were an indication of where this gets truncated whilst editing the question so you can optimise for it whilst writing though).

  • 4
    FLEXO! Evil Bender's answer is not to be acknowledged. Commented Jun 21, 2012 at 15:00

Yes, such content summaries should ideally appear at the top of a question.

To me it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to have it appear at the end. TL;DR essentially says it all. The content is so long that a user might skip your question because of it. So why would they go look for a summary at the end? Provide a couple of lines up front so a user can decide if the question might be worth his time/effort.

A word of warning though: if your question is so long that a summary is required, you might want to reconsider your question. Is it perhaps too broad to answer? Does it require more than a reasonable amount of effort to understand it and answer it?

While sometimes a long question is reasonable, more often than not it is a sign that you have not narrowed your problem down enough.

  • 1
    Generally speaking, once I've turned to Stack Overflow for help, my 'what have you tried list' is pretty extensive. I try to cut the stuff that isn't relevant or helpful, but I also try to provide enough info to put my issue in perspective. Commented Jun 21, 2012 at 14:30
  • It's not like anyone writing pages of a question will ever read this post nor follow it. why do you guys bother so much?
    – user173320
    Commented Jun 21, 2012 at 14:31
  • 3
    @gdoron i.imgur.com/Mnutz.jpg
    – Bart
    Commented Jun 21, 2012 at 14:32
  • @Bart. I respect that, but it's just like coming here to meta complaining about homework questions. Those kinds with those questions will keep on asking so... close, ignore and forget, no need to complain about it. same thing here.
    – user173320
    Commented Jun 21, 2012 at 14:35
  • @gdoron Next time someone comes: "My question was closed as too broad, even though I provided a summary" /me points to this question "See, nice summary, but it reveals underlying problem". TADAAA ;)
    – Bart
    Commented Jun 21, 2012 at 14:37

I would suggest that the question title should be the tl;dr section.

That is, the title should be a well-constructed question that provides a summary of the question content. Yes, title should be brief, but you can get a good amount of text in there should you really need it.

  • I get what you mean, but please don't let anybody take this as an encouragement for overly long titles. They should be burned with FIRE.
    – Bart
    Commented Jun 21, 2012 at 14:44
  • 1
    I'd prefer an overly long title to "Help!!!1! my thingee doesnt work"
    – ale
    Commented Jun 21, 2012 at 14:45
  • True. Though if your thingee doesn't work, SO is not the place to ask a question about it. ;)
    – Bart
    Commented Jun 21, 2012 at 14:46

TL;DR It's a Q&A site about real problems.

Long questions making you tired and not reading all the question text is the problem,
no matter where the summary is written.

Do you really want someone to answer your question without reading all the problem?!
If the TL;DR section is enough than why do you write all the rest? If it's not enough then why do you write it?

Now after reading the full answer did the TL;DR section help you?

Death to TL;DR!!!

  • IMO, tldr is completely fine on answers. Stuff can be answered at multiple levels, and I find a TLDR section pretty useful (I also have a "conclusion" on many long answers). Sometimes, only a few lines can answer the user's question, but a few paragraphs can make the answer an awesome one that help the user learn (and other visitors) Commented Jun 25, 2012 at 4:42

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