Twitter Tips: Writing Your Best in 140 Characters or Fewer

by • November 15, 2013

Composing the perfect tweet is rather like writing a haiku; because of the constrained form, you have to distill your thoughts into 140 perfect characters. The limitations of the medium encourage users to employ shorter words and simpler syntax. George Orwell, who advocated for precise, straightforward writing in his 1946 essay “Politics and the English Language,” would be pleased.

For the long-winded among us, however, getting our thoughts across in so few characters can be a challenge. A certain amount of abbreviation and truncation is unavoidable, but the jury is still out as to how Twitter has impacted the English language.

The fast-paced nature of Twitter, with many tweets composed on the fly via Smartphone, has led to certain common errors that are less about ignorance and more about convenience. As this post points out, apostrophes require extra effort, and everyone will understand what you mean if you type “your” instead of “your.”

Whether you think Twitter is the death of the English language (and if you do, your ancestors likely said the same thing about those darn kids and their new-fangled abacus) or if you think it’s the home of the modern-day bon mot, you can’t deny that the social media platform has a huge impact on the way we share and consume information. If you want to participate in the conversation, here are seven key components to composing a great tweet.

Keep it Brief. You already know that Twitter limits the number of characters you can type, but if you continually use up every last one of those 140 characters, you’re actually doing yourself a disservice. Keep your tweets to around 100 characters to leave room for retweets from your followers.

Get to the Point. In print journalism, writers know not to “bury the lead” in the second or third paragraph of a story. Twitter users have even less leeway; you need to start off with the pertinent information. For example, compare the following (fake) tweets:

Exhibit A: Check out my latest blog post on llamama.com about the best ways to shear llamas.

Exhibit B: How to shear llamas without getting bitten! http://llamamama.com/blog. #llamas4life.

The second tweet, although ridiculous, lets the reader know immediately what it’s about and includes a pertinent hashtag.

Hashtags. Entrepreneur recommends using no more than two hashtags per tweet; more than that begins to look like spam. To keep track of trending hashtags, check out hashtag.org.

Keywords. Google Adwords has a keyword planning tool that allows you to generate lists of keywords based on a topic. (Note that you’ll need to create a free Adwords account before you can use the planner.)

Links. Links can sometimes be an unwieldy string of characters. Before 2011, savvy Twitter users used URL shorteners Bitly or Ow.ly. However, Twitter now wraps all links, regardless of length, using their t.co link shortening service. All URLs, regardless of length, will get shortened to 22 characters.

Engagement. Jeff Goins, in his post “Lessons Learned After 20,000 Tweets,” writes that Twitter is about starting a conversation. “It’s about community and friendship and connection,” he advises. Most blog posts end with a call to action, and successful bloggers connect with their readers in the comments. Twitter isn’t that much different; ask open-ended questions, retweet interesting tidbits, and connect in dialogue with your followers.

Proofread. Grammar may be somewhat looser on Twitter and other social media platforms, but that doesn’t mean that you can throw The Elements of Style out the window. There are a few vigilantes out there, such as @capscop and @yourinamerica, who use automated bots to target grammar offenders. There’s little that internet culture loves more than pointing out the mistakes of others, so make sure that your tweets are as error-free as possible. Check out Grammarly Lite, a plugin designed for web-based proofreading.

Follow @Grammarly on Twitter for more tips, tricks, and tidbits on writing well.

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