Thursday, March 26, 2009

How to cite a span of Twitter tweets in APA style

To catch you up: John Dupuis almost pulled me away from my fishing with his question about how one would cite from my last post I puzzled through (for myself at least) how I might cite an individual tweet.

But the tricky part of John's question remained:
  • what about when the cited message (cheats) actually spans several tweets? such as the 4 part Twitter message that John cobbled together for his readers but which we can hopefully see with a kwout:
Even combined I still see these as a part of a blog-type online periodical?

So, the quote John "cobbled" was from the ?online periodical? titled Clay Shirky (cshirky) on Twitter.

Because the tweets are consecutive and all published on the same day at practically the same time could they be considered to be pages of that day's issue of that periodical? If so, remember that a 'page' specification would be cited in-text rather than in the reference.

Although Twitter posts are named with digits, they are not consecutive and they are large so using those digits as page numbers would be cumbersome and confusing to readers (eg /status/1362459269 ; 1362458547 ; 1362458174 ; 1362457866).

Could we use the date/time of publication as be a page reference? (with this I worry that the time/date we see at Twitter might depend on our timezone?)
(Shirky, 2009, Mar 20, 12:29pm-12-30pm)
Shirky, C. [a.k.a cshirky] (2009, March 20). [4 tweets beginning: (1/4) The "Web vs. Print" ...] Clay Shirky (cshirky) on Twitter. Retrieved March 24, 2009 from

Is that time/date accurate for your viewing of Clay's Twittering? If not, could one include a timezone?

Although I'd understand that citation enough to find the source, I'd guess that it would not enter well into tools like Zotero, Endnote or Refworks.

Please, please, please... tell me how you would cite John's quote of Clay's tweets?


In the process of this puzzling I tried out Gunther Eysenbach's suggestion commented on my citing-a-blog-post description about WebCite. I tested it: but had the curious experience of having the collection of tweets disappear after 7 seconds, leaving only the background image.


  1. What about this for two closely related tweets:
    Dimdim (Kevin). (2009, March 5). [Twitter post]. Retrieved April 8, 2009, from and
    Citations in APA style should help the reader find the reference, first and foremost, as I understand it. So it seems to me that the URL is the most important part.

  2. Hi Betsy

    In their 2007 update to referencing electronic sources, APA (p.2) declare that consistency in reference style is important so that database crawlers that index automatically by capturing data from article reference lists can recognise the reference elements.

    APA also (p. 23) say to use the author's full name if available.

    And you are correct references in APA should "Direct readers as closely as possible to the source you used" (p.2) so the specific tweet's URL is a vital part of the reference.

    Would how they appear in the reference list depend on how you cite the two tweets in text? (And it occurs to me here that I have not made it clear in the post that we're discussing references and citations that would be as usable in print).

    The tweets you mentioned make slightly different points so would you not consider listing each separately? However, assuming that your citation makes just one point, and that both tweets are required to make the point then just one appearance in the reference list makes some sense and I think you're right, listing each specific URL is probably most useful for the person who wants to see your source: With your URLs I was able to find each of the tweets involved in your citation; whereas with the reference I suggested for the tweet-span from cshirky it would take scrolling through lots of 'more' links to find the specific tweets from the times in my in-text citation.

    On the other hand, more than one URL could make life hard for those database crawlers :) . Also, the longer the span of tweets the less likely I would want to include each specific URL.

    For your citation I'd use the author's full name because it is available. A title is still a useful element although choosing what that should be is still a challenge.

    Miccalizzi, K. (2009, March 5). Dimdim (Kevin)(dimdim) on Twitter Retrieved April 10, 2009, from and

    Interestingly, I see those posts as appearing on March 6.

    American Psychological Association. (2007). APA Style Guide to Electronic References. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

  3. Twitter dates and times must be localized - I'm on HST, and I assume that you are not!

    I think that with the two tweets I want to reference, making two separate entries would be okay, but I can imagine a reference list getting very very long if that idea were carried to its logical conclusion. I can envision creating a mash-up website for tweets that are being cited and listing that page in the references instead of individual tweets. Wonder what APA would have to say about that!

  4. Hi Betsy,

    Yes if the date and time is localised I think it is probably not such a great mechanism of identification for an article destined for international audience. However it might be satisfactory for High School and undergraduate papers, assuming one is not an international distance education student :).

    I've been trying to find a circumstance that would involve citation of a hefty quantity of an individual author's tweets, so as to imagine how they might be cited.

    Perhaps a student of literature is analysing a poem composed in tweets? As I am not such a student, I first need to clarify my pondering: would an analysis of a printed poem make one item in the reference list, and cite individual lines? If so, perhaps this analyst of a twitter-poem might cite (in-text) individual (/status/##########) tweets, from one reference to the author's twitter feed?

    So I think this method could easily apply to any situation in which multiple citations are made from diverse tweets in one author's Twitter feed.

    However, if we extend the idea John began that one might be citing, just once, a long series of (let's say 10-20 nonconsecutive and let's say non-hashtagged) tweets... then what would be the best way to make the citation?

    Wouldn't an in-text reference to all the /status/#### numbers be excessively bulky?

    Even Gunther's WebCite suggestion wouldn't help here because all the tweets might not be visible at the time of archiving.

    So would we have all of those specific tweet URLs in the one reference list item? That would be a bulky item. But if these tweets were made at some range from each other this might be the only reasonable way to make a reference item that can be reasonably checked.

    However if the tweets occurred within somewhat close proximity though not consecutive then perhaps a date span with timezone indication might suffice?

    Your idea of a mashup or gathering in a separate place and then referencing that one place (how would you do that?) is an excellent solution which would then be a relatively easy "In" reference?

    Or maybe not so easy?

    I want to give that more thought... but I'd love it if someone else has an answer :D


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