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.
- 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.
- Follow AP style; abide by correct grammar, spelling, punctuation; use full sentences.
- 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.
- Attribution: For important/interesting comments or statements, name the source.
- Conduct interviews; tweet photo and quote of at least one participant and one organizer.
- 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.
- When sharing videos, include a synopsis as well as information about video duration.
- 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.
- Live blog: A new know-how for journalism students
- 5 tips for effective web writing: Anatomy of a functional blog post
- How to use Storify as a reporting tool
- “Inverted pyramid” is still a functional guideline for web writing
- How to make your live tweeting of an event indispensible for readers
- How journalism educators can teach students to live tweet campus events
- Adding Twitter to editing classes
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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