Summarize Everything

By Mark Nuyens
4 min. read📱 Technology

Valuing time, we should skillfully condense our articles for brevity and enhanced accessibility. Reading time may mislead due to content complexity, not word count. Solutions may involve introducing a "key insights" or "TLDR" section upfront.

With time arguably being our most precious resource, it can be frustrating to encounter those long articles that promised to be just a "5 to 10-minute read". Let's be honest; most of us struggle to meet that expectation. It's an issue that has been gnawing at me for some time now. The answer, I suspect, lies in a peculiar mix of ego, a desire for writers to impress, a fear of sounding superficial or inaccurate, or simply due to a lack of awareness. However, as a result, readers skim through or even skip their articles altogether, defeating the entire purpose. I would like to encourage writers and editors to keep their content as short as possible. Don't just kill your darlings, destroy them.

Although writers may be aware of their lengthy articles, the misrepresentation of reading time could also be attributed to other factors, such as the subject of an article. Content can range from being easily digestible to highly intricate, sometimes even demanding specific domain knowledge. However, the displayed reading time usually only considers the total word count, failing to account for the varying levels of complexity. This misconception leads to a difference between between the estimated reading time and the actual cognitive reading time.

Every time I write a blog article, I admit that my initial draft tends to be rather extensive. However, after a little help from my AI co-writter, I manage to trim it down to a more manageable 6-8 paragraphs, depending on what seems realistic. I then revise, edit, and delete, crafting a final version that's even more concise. A few days later, with fresh eyes, I revisit it, fine-tuning until it perfectly conveys my message in a concise and relevant manner. While I'm certainly not claiming to have mastered this art perfectly, it's definitely something I try to keep in mind.

The truth is, we often underestimate the amount of content people have to consume on a daily basis. Meanwhile, we also tend to overestimate our own writing skills and, in all honesty, the relevance and accessibility of our content. It's crucial not to scare off our readers with excessive or unfamiliar information. Ideally, to keep our readers engaged, we should strive towards serving bite-sized portions, all without sacrificing the core message.

Several authors offer a solution by including "Key Insights," "Key Takeaways," or "TLDR" sections at the beginning of their content, catering to time-constrained readers who prefer to access the most pertinent information without skipping an article solely due to its length. In fact, I'm considering adding a "TLDR" version (Too Long/Lazy, Didn't Read) to my forthcoming articles, as part of my ongoing commitment to enhancing the summarization of my content. This article actually marks the start of such a section.

Here's another valuable tip I'd like to share with fellow web designers: consider the screen real estate below an article. When I assess the length of an article, I often glance at the size of the scrollbar on the webpage. A small scrollbar indicates a challenging and time-consuming reading experience. However, a seemingly short article might actually contain a lengthy comments section, a list of related articles, or a substantial footer. These elements can extend the overall page length, deceiving readers by making the scrollbar appear shorter relative to the actual content.

Just imagine if those 15-minute reads would shrink to just 5 minutes, or potentially even less. This would essentially be a win-win. Readers would save time, stay more engaged, and better understand the content. In my opinion, such a transformation could significantly improve the way we consume information and ultimately help prevent digital fatique.

Don't get me wrong, I don't want to criticize long-form content or sound arrogant. I'm just emphasizing the importance of being concise. Now that we have the tools to summarize almost any text, it's time we started using them. At the very least, this article aims to remind myself, but hopefully also inspire others, to follow up on this promise and ensure it benefits everyone in the long run.