Tuesday, March 24, 2009

How to cite Twitter posts in APA style

While fishing outside Stromgarde Keep this evening I was also Bloglining... as one does ;-D

But the funny thing is I was almost tempted to stop fishing by John Dupuis' question:

Perhaps it is even funnier that I didn't stop fishing? Still the realm went down for maintenance so I'm up late now because I simply must puzzle towards an answer, even if just for myself, or else BURST :P

Well an answer about citing Twitter posts, not about doing it with Zotero or Endnote - are they better at such things than Refworks?

At first I thought Tweets are just short blog posts, and I've described how I would cite blogposts in APA style. To save you jumping back, this was somewhat my conclusion:

Author, A. A., Author, B. B., & Author, C. C. (2000, Jan 27). Title of post. Title of Blog. Retrieved month day, year, from source post specific URL.
... however I wonder:
  • what is a tweet's title?
  • what is the 'blog' title?
  • I already know I can get the URL of a specific tweet but
  • what about when the cited post (cheats) actually spans several tweets? such as the 4 part Twitter message that John cobbled together for his readers but which I can show with a kwout maybe:

So what I know first, considering only an individual tweet:

Stable URL: each Tweet is followed (usually?/always? in italics) by when and from where it was posted... and the when is a hyperlink to the stable URL. In the following kwouted example, hover over the time/date (now this is odd, does it say 6:00 AM Mar 20th for you?) to see the tweet's URL is http://twitter.com/dupuisj/status/1356028444

sometimes the when is relative...(I wonder whether this will appear different when today is over?... I think it will, when I cut it the when read about 18 hours ago)...

What do you think of Kwout's answer to the title question? Beads suggests the same: That the title of a HTML web page can be taken from the <TITLE> element of that page (which displays in the browser's Title Bar).

However, do you note that the <TITLE> Twitter creates (and Kwout uses) for an individual post begins "Twitter / authorname:" and continues with, logically, the first few words of the post ? If we use that as the individual post title and consider the collection of an author's tweets to be the blog/periodical that Twitter <TITLE>s, for example: John Dupuis (dupuisj) on Twitter ? Then citing Twitter posts as if from a blog would result in a cumbersome reference like:

Dupuis, J. (Mar. 19, 2009). Twitter / John Dupuis: Ref Q: I'm a 1st yr and lo ... John Dupuis (dupuisj) on Twitter. Retrieved Mar. 24, 2009 from http://twitter.com/dupuisj/status/1356028444


Perhaps <TITLE> serves multiple functions and different ones for different websites? [Can someone send some examples?]. In this case Twitter's <TITLE> for an individual post appears to combine a post title sensibly taken from the first few words of the post with a reasonable periodical title? Thus:

Mr Tom. (Mar. 24, 2009). Twitter will get you fired ... Twitter / MrTom Retrieved March 24, 2009 from http://twitter.com/MrTom/status/1377448350


if one is really stuck on using <TITLE> as it is given one might treat the individual tweet as an individual web document? and thus simply:

Dupuis, J. (Mar. 19, 2009). Twitter / John Dupuis: Ref Q: I'm a 1st yr and lo ... Retrieved Mar. 24, 2009 from http://twitter.com/dupuisj/status/1356028444

What do you think?

Still I doubt either of those questions in any way stumped John. His question I am guessing is "how do you cite a Twitter message that spans multiple tweets?" and I think my puzzling on this should become a new post ...

but what was she saying?


  1. I'm glad I'm not the only one who's wondered how to cite tweets.

    Thanks for your hard work!

  2. Thanks for this post - I am trying to cite a couple of tweets now, and it helps to read about your reasoning. I didn't know about getting a URL for a tweet - very helpful!
    I wonder, though, about using "names" as authors - my first instinct was to use @betsylavolette, for example.

  3. Very kind of you to express your appreciation Betsy and hidama... I'm curious how you would set out a reference for a citation from Twitter.

    Betsy I found the APA Style Guide to Electronic References (APA, 2007) at work. On page 23 is the only official APA statement I have seen regarding use of screen-names (or not):

    "If the author's full name is available, list the last name first followed by initials. If only a screen name is available, use the screen name."

    Land (1998) recommends including the handle or screen-name (with a.k.a. in brackets) if the author is commonly known by the handle.

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

    Land, T. [a.k.a Beads] (1998, October 15). Web Extension to American Psychological Association Style (WEAPAS) (Rev. 1.6) Retrieved 10 April, 2009, from http://www.beadsland.com/weapas/

  4. I like the "a.k.a." inclusion in brackets - that makes sense to me when the real name is also available. Thanks for that reference.

  5. Your post is a sign of the times that we have recently written about in the journal Internet and Higher Education (doi:10.1016/j.iheduc.2008.03.001).

    At the heart of an intelligent and systematic approach to useful style guides is the need for reform of underpinning standards that are a decade old, namely ISO [International Organization for Standardization]> 690-2: Information and documentation - Bibliographic references - Part 2.

    I'd be interested in hearing from anyone who'd like to join forces in this effort.

  6. I guess you do not work at La Trobe Uni. I posed this same question to one of the subject librarians a couple of weeks back and only registered blank stares.

  7. so for everyone's benefit, i've created a website http://www.thesocialarchive.com/ that archives tweets and posts an mla-like reference at the bottom of each tweet. tell me watcha think?

  8. From a research perspective, how much of an issue is it that only the most recent 3000 tweets from a user accessible; what happens when you cite an active user's tweet #4103 and two months from now, it's not accessible because they're on tweeet #7104?

  9. @Chris, I believe that the tweets will always be accessible by the url, it's just a limitation of the API to not allow a person to search back through their tweets past 3000.

  10. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  11. Thanks for your post. I worked out a way that seems to fit with the social sciences Chicago 15th Turbiana style, like this:

    Best, Mark [aka @markbest]. 2009. 2 1/2 minutes appearance on master chef... Twitter [cited 28 July 2009]. Available from http://twitter.com/markbest/status/2449583221.

    Hopefully that's clear enough for the assessors of my chapter, which I submitted last Friday. :-)

  12. Thanks Tammois

    I've been curious how others are building their citations of modern sources. Your compilation seems reasonable.

    I had a query at work recently about citing in Chicago style, so I've become curious about that and other styles. It will have to wait till assignments are finished :D

  13. I just became a twitter user before 1 month. I am unknown about so much twitter application. Can any one tell me about retweet.

  14. Rebeca?

    I haven't used retweet, so I won't presume to be able to explain it. Nelly Yusupova and Syed Balkhis do, so I understand it a little more now. It seems to acknowledge the twitterers who lead you to something interesting.

    However it could raise a question of how one might cite a retweet: ie would you cite the twitterer you first read, or the original tweeter?

    1. In work that requires official citation methods like APA style, I would not be citing a tweet at all if the meat of subject is actually elsewhere. Most times I have seen retweets is when even the original tweet was merely a pointer to a blog/post/video/article. While in academic referencing we have a method of citing material that we have only read via a secondary source (eg Paul quotes John and I haven't read John's original work and so might cite John "in" Paul...); this is only done so long as we have not read the original. If Paul's quote made us sufficiently interested that we went and read John's original then we can cite John directly.

    2. So: unless the retweeter has added significant material such that it is the retweeter's perspective I wish to capture as much as the original; I would chase down the original and use that.

    3. But, sometimes the original tweeter's updates cannot be viewed, so (assuming it was not just a link to a source off-Twitter) in such case I guess we have reason to use an "in" citation.

    And that is as much as I'm willing to think on the matter for now... I would love to hear from anyone who has actually seen a tweet or retweet worth citing in academic work.

  15. I'm about to write a citation of a Tweet in MLA style, and since I can't find anything, I'm going to make up the format as best I can based on general MLA formatting and the ideas in your blog. (Thank you for writing about it, by the way...it helped). Rather than making the title "Twitter/Jay Rosen: BTW, what I actually said..." I've decided to cut off the "Twitter/Jay" part from the title. The author's name and the name of the site (Twitter) will be elsewhere in the citation, so repeating them only clutters the entry instead of providing useful info.
    Thanks again!

    --Ryan Love



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