Twitter for academia – how to cite a tweet


It all started with calls for acknowledging the source of information shared as a means of providing some credibility checking for it. On the microblogging site Twitter several practices were in places from “via” to the more commonly agreed (and shorter) RT (re-tweet).

Besides acknowledging a source, overweight the RT practice allows people (marketers/researchers) to track information sources as well as monitor how information propagates through the network. To work well, the RT practice needs to be consistent and preferably not cross platforms.

The RT as quote within Twitter.

The buttons for RT-ing available both on Twitter itself and its apps as well as on third-party applications like TweetDeck automatically replicate the entire text of the tweet, including any links, to which they add an RT @username. This works really well when the original tweet is under the 140 characters allocated but it gets challenging when the tweet already uses this space.

If editing of the tweet is necessary in order to be shared further, it is recommended to use MT (modified tweet) rather than RT. This will indicate that the orginial tweet has been subject of some alteration. If the tweet shares a link, my recommendation would be to keep the link unaltered and modify the text. While modifications in text might occur, this will still allow for the source of the information and the link to be tracked.

Academia – How to quote a Tweet

With social media data being used to inform academic research more often, the Modern Language Association (MLA) has recently devised a standard format to quote tweets in academic papers. The MLA style is usually used in humanities, especially in languages and literature. Their recommendation should be useful though to all researchers/academics using data from Twitter.

Here’s their example:

Athar, Sohaib (ReallyVirtual). “Helicopter hovering above Abbottabad at 1AM (is a rare event).” 1 May 2011, 3:58 p.m. Tweet.

They also recommend to quote a tweet in its entirety within the text of the paper, however their example is not that clear. To me this is more of a paraphrasing which includes a quote rather than the quoting of an entire tweet. Regardless, do note that there is not year associated with the tweet.

Sohaib Athar noted that the presence of a helicopter at that hour was “a rare event.”


The presence of a helicopter at that hour was “a rare event” (Athar).

 Implications: Is it that easy to quote tweets?

The MLA model is quite straightforward and following it shouldn’t be complicated. However, I see several challenges:

  • time of tweet (They should be in the same timezone which could be quite tricky if there is no consistent way of accessing tweets)
  • multiple sources (Unless the author is on Twitter, there could be multiple users sharing the same information at the same time. For instance not all pieces of news are tweeted by media outlets. Similarly, not all blog posts or images are tweeted by their authors. This means that content is discovered and shared at different times.)
  • multiple ways of reporting a tweet (This is not related to original tweets but those that are reposted. The practice of RTs, MTs, HTs – heard through -, via needs to be taken into account when exploring twitter content).


I found out about their efforts from a LinkedIn newsletter I received today (March 13, 2012) which mentioned Alexis Madrigal’s article for The Atlantic which mentions his colleague’s Jennifer Howard’s tweet about MLA’s model.

This makes me wonder about how would I cite this in a paper.






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