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.
Want to learn more about effective web writing? Check out these popular books at Amazon:
- 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