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Writing for Twitter

Rules for writing are pretty universal, depending on what style guide your institution prefers. Most of the rules for writing for Facebook hold true for Twitter; there is just one small catch—you only have 140 characters to work with for Twitter.

So, what information should you include, and how can you fit it all into small tidbits for your followers?

Know What Lay Ahead

It is best to keep an eye on the Central Calendar, or your departmental calendar, to see what kind of big events are on the horizon. These kind of events will need more than one tweet.

Acknowledge Every Kind of Event

If your department/organization will be sponsoring or helping out with something in the community—tweet it. The same holds true for student events that your department will hold.

These kind of events may draw attention and feedback from users outside of your target audience.

Social Network Synergy

If you have an account with Facebook, LinkedIn, Foursquare, etc.—tweet it.

This will draw some of the Facebook users, who also use Twitter, to follow your department/organization.

Write for the Tweeple

Be Conversational

If your followers wanted headlines, they’d read the newspaper. Don’t be afraid to be conversational.

Use questions to draw the readers in, don’t be afraid to make a pun or two, and respond to mentions if it is appropriate.

Write Using Past and Future Tense

This will help the writing sound less headline-like.

Good: Professor Jones gave a public lecture on Thursday.

Good: Professor Jones will give a public lecture on Thursday.

Not so good: Professor Jones gives public lecture.

Generally Avoid Using Filler-like Terms

Every once and awhile it is ok to start out with a draw-in phrase like “don’t miss” or “It’s almost here,” but for the basic everyday tweets, avoid using these phrases—it is best to front-load the most important information, considering how cramped for space you are to begin with.

Spell check. Spell check. Spell check.

Have you ever sent an e-mail and realized you misspelled a few words? Embarassing, isn’t it? Well when you are writing for such a potentially large audience, you might want to double-check that your spelling of “Archaeology” is correct.

Don’t Speak in the Third Person

Odds are the user following you knows what department/organization the account represents, so it would be redundant to use the name of said party in a tweet. Here’s what to do:

Good: “The Communications Media Department will welcome a new professor for the Fall.” Tweeted by @iupedu

Not so good: “The IUP Comm Media Department will welcome a new professor.” Tweeted by @iupedu

Give Them the Scoop

Telling details of an event is often better than giving the event title. You can always provide a link to the website promoting the event. Here are a few examples:

Good: “The undead will creep into Waller for one more performance of ‘Evil Dead: The Musical’ at 8 p.m.”

Not so good: “Play: Evil Dead: The Musical.”

Good: “Nichole Canuso Dance Co. presents ‘Wandering Alice,’ a dance & movement work inspired by Lewis Carroll & Haruki Murakami.”

Not so good: Get tickets to see Nichole Canuso dance Company in ‘Wandering Alice.’”

If you provide a link to a video, let the reader know. Try to acknowledge there is a video on the other end of the link by saying something like “Now on YouTube,” or “See a video here.”

Write for Your Audience

Presumably, you want to reach current and prospective students along with their families, or other affected parties. You want to keep this in mind while writing tweets, or any information for that fact.

Keep it Short

Obviously. Having 140 characters to work with (not including hashtags, mentions, links, etc.) really hinders things.

Here’s the trick: Spell things out when you can. If you need to replace an “and” with an ampersand or abbreviate terms to make room, go for it. Here’s an example.

Good: Journalism prof. Randy Jesick will be the keynote speaker at the 2011 journalism workshop for high school students & teachers.

Include the “Who”

When you are featuring an individual, make sure you give the reader the person’s name and detail why this individual is being discussed.

Good: “’Discovering Eden,’ written by Theater major Joe York, hits the Waller mainstage 8 p.m. Weds. Learn more:”

Not so good: “’Discovering Eden’ musical plays at Waller Hall at 8 p.m.”

Also, make sure you include department/university affiliation when space allows. If space is cramped, abbreviate “professor” to “prof.” Note: Never use “Dr.” Outside of the university setting, “Dr.” means an M.D.

Interact (When Appropriate)

Do not reply to every mention or rely. I know it is tempting, but that isn’t the best practice. You want to limit yourself to replying to only those tweets that warrant a reply. For example, if a query about class cancellation due to weather comes about, and said person is unaware of policy, it would be appropriate to either A.) Inform said individual, or B.) Point that individual in the direction of someone that could answer their question more fully.

Screenshot of a Twitter interaction

When is it happening?

Once again, this is virtually the same as if writing for Facebook. You want to follow University and Chicago Styles whenever possible. Here are a few key points:

  • Use a.m. or p.m. unless you use a time element such as “tonight” or “noon.”
  • Do not use “th” or “nd.” For example: April 7.
  • If it is a future event, include only the date—there is no need to mention a precise time or place.

Daily/Weekly Tactics for Writing


Statistics show that the best time to tweet is from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.. Therefore, the most important events or information should be tweeted out in this timeframe.

Also, announcements about that day’s events must go out before the event begins.

Big Events

Prepare a schedule of upcoming events for your department or organization that will need to be tweeted. It is best to know big events at least a month in advance to prepare and tweet about well before the event takes place.