A Twitter writing guide for journalists: Adapting conventional news writing for the digital age

Guidelines for print news writing and web writing have been well established; however, guidelines for journalistic Twitter writing have not been fully explored. I developed some writing guidelines for a live-tweeting assignment in a digital journalism class, and these guidelines are everything that is taught in traditional journalism classes.

News tweeting needs to follow a journalistic writing style

When a reporter is assigned to live tweet an event and to feed tweets to the news media’s Twitter account, he or she should write tweets in a way different from the (casual and cursory) writing style of his or her personal Twitter account.

I felt the need for some Twitter-writing guidelines when teaching a digital journalism class in fall 2012. I created a live-tweeting assignment for students to live tweet the homecoming celebrations at our university. As required, students were tweeting texts, photos and videos; but one issue emerged – the writing. If there was a sizable audience following these tweets, they may quickly lose interest if all they read are tweets such as:

  • Had so much fun at homecoming! Club, music & sports…can’t wait til next year!
  • Thank you to all the families who came out to support the clubs, organizations, and athletics
  • I wish I was little so that I could get on the moon bounce
  • Impressed with what they have lined up

And the photos and videos students tweeted/shared usually did not have necessary and properly-written captions or synopses.

A proposed tweet-writing guideline

Noticing these writing issues, I put together some writing guidelines for future live-tweet assignments.

  1. Use third-person writing: audiences are following the event, not the reporter, so avoid  using first-person pronouns such as “I/me,” “we/us,” “our,” etc. And avoid tweeting about your personal opinions and comments.
  2. Follow AP style; abide by correct grammar, spelling, punctuation; use full sentences.
  3. Tweet key information about the event/activity: Who, when, where, what, why, how. Need to have background information based on prior research and on-location interview.
  4. Attribution: For important/interesting comments or statements, name the source.
  5. Conduct interviews; tweet photo and quote of at least one participant and one organizer.
  6. When tweeting photos, include a caption that follows caption-writing guidelines:
    • Describe the action taking place in the photo.
    • Identify every person (or major persons) in the photo.
    • Put the picture into context by providing background or additional information.
    • Use present tense for the first sentence; use past or future tense for additional information.
    • Include some time and place references.
  7. When sharing videos, include a synopsis as well as information about video duration.
  8. Include hashtags chosen in class discussions: class hashtag, event hashtag, organizer hashtag, etc.

Looking at the above guidelines, one may realize that, for the most part, it is what a newspaper reporter needs to do for a print news article. And this again echoes what I have said in several other posts – the time-tested “old” journalism is still basis for good digital journalism.

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Mu Lin

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Dr. Mu Lin is a digital journalism educator in New Jersey, United States. Dr. Lin blogs about digital journalism education and offers free digital journalism courses at MulinBlog Online J-School (www.mulinblog.com/mooc).
The following courses are scheduled for 2015, with additional courses under development:
Audio Slideshow Storytelling (January, July)
Introduction to Social Media Marketing (February, August)
Writing for the Web (March, September)
Google Mapping for Communicators (April, October)
Introduction to Data Visualization (May, November)
Introduction to Web Metrics and Google Analytics (June, December)
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About Mu Lin

Dr. Mu Lin is a digital journalism educator in New Jersey, United States. Dr. Lin blogs about digital journalism education and offers free digital journalism courses at MulinBlog Online J-School (www.mulinblog.com/mooc). The following courses are scheduled for 2015, with additional courses under development: Audio Slideshow Storytelling (January, July) Introduction to Social Media Marketing (February, August) Writing for the Web (March, September) Google Mapping for Communicators (April, October) Introduction to Data Visualization (May, November) Introduction to Web Metrics and Google Analytics (June, December)
This entry was posted in Mobile news reporting, Writing for the web. Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to A Twitter writing guide for journalists: Adapting conventional news writing for the digital age

  1. Matt says:

    Great article (caught it on Social Media Today)! The 140-character limit always complicates things a bit! Thanks for sharing!

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  3. Anon says:

    Also, something I learned by (unfortunately) doing – don’t tweet every single remark the speaker makes, only the more salient points. Otherwise you risk losing your regular audience.

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  6. clhall says:

    Thank you for posting these guidelines. I would like to use them in my reporting courses this year.

  7. Pingback: Twitter writing tips for mobile news reporting ...

  8. Dave Lucas says:

    I find it interesting that some journos display the warning that “re-tweets are not endorsements” – under the standard twitter retweet, the content and photo and twitter handle along with the original tweet are displayed. Now, if I were to do an “old-school” RT or MT, that might be interpreted as an ‘endorsement’??? Who came up with such a foolish notion? My take on journalists and tweeting is a little bit different:
    http://davelucasmobile.wordpress.com/2014/01/31/rules-of-twitter-engagement-for-journalists/

  9. Importante, gracias por darnos estas pautas, existimos muchos estudiantes de periodismo que desconocemos esta interesante información, siendo de gran beneficio para nuestro futuro.

  10. mluqman says:

    Very interesting

  11. unclebuck says:

    I’m not sure why but this blog is loading incredibly slow for me.
    Is anyone else having this problem or is it a problem on my end?

    I’ll check back later on and see if the problem still exists.

  12. TwitShot (http://www.twitshot.com) is also a useful tool that lets you easily add relevant images to your tweets (Disclosure: I am the founder)

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