Citing a Tweet (It’s Not Just for Twits)

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There was online chatter recently when the Modern Language Association posted its style for citing a tweet. This didn’t surprise me. What surprised me was the amount of backlash from commenters who are still shocked at the idea of Twitter as a legitimate source of information for scholars; who cling to the idea that Twitter data consists only of what millions of users ate for breakfast; who not only choose to remain stubbornly ignorant of the technology, but are willing to boast of it in public.


Let me ask them this: Do you sneer at a writer who quotes profit statistics from the annual report of a foundation or corporation? Or who quotes a political speech and cites a newspaper? How is it fundamentally different if the original information is posted in a tweet with a link to the documentation?

Granted, you can learn what the world is eating and selling and watching if you choose to follow writers who post that kind of content. And it’s probable that even the most studious “tweeps” also use it for fun the way the rest of us do. (Why wouldn’t I follow FakeAPStylebook?) But we also follow the Twitter streams of publications, institutions, and authorities in fields that interest us—people who comment on and link to information and articles we might otherwise miss. A Twitter feed that has been tailored to reflect one’s own interests is a miraculously concise and efficient way to identify and aggregate special-interest headlines from the daily avalanche of online news.

It’s not as though the vast bulk of personal handwritten or typed correspondence found in historical archives is worthy of quoting or citing. Rather, it is filled with useless trivia, including, no doubt, what Thomas Jefferson or Mozart ate for breakfast one day. Yet no one questions the respectability of quoting from such letters and memos and citing their sources.

I can’t dispute the fact that Twitter hosts a wasteland of inane blather; but it makes no sense to reject out of hand the original commentary and data that also reside there.

OK, I feel better now. So how do you cite a tweet? The MLA example is this:

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

The Chicago Manual of Style’s 16th edition, prepared before the longevity of the Twitter phenomenon could be counted on, contains no mention of tweeting; however, its Web site Q&A posted a suggested style some months ago:

In the text, you can incorporate the facts into a sentence: In a Twitter post on September 14, 2011, Garrett Kiely (@gkiely) wrote, “Using Google, Authors Guild takes 2 mins to connect an author with an ‘orphaned work’:” And here’s a possible note form:

32. Garrett Kiely, Twitter post, September 14, 2011, 8:50 a.m.,

The MLA example doesn’t include a URL; the CMOS example doesn’t include a discrete URL. If I could rewrite the Chicago answer, I might add one (after shortening it at Bitly):

87. “Fact-check all political obituaries with the CIA to make sure they didn’t do it.” FakeAPStylebook, Twitter post, February 16, 2012, 9:30 a.m.,

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Readers with questions about academic writing, editing, and publishing may e-mail Carol at


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