Twitter tips for business writing

I’ve a new article up at Emphasis Training, a writing consultancy based in Brighton, UK. It’s about Twitter – specifically, it offers tips on how to reduce character count in tweets without sacrificing intelligibility or professionalism. (Twitter allows just 140 characters per message.)

The article looks at editing, abbreviation, punctuation, symbol use, and other areas. It’s aimed primarily at business-writing professionals but may also be of some general interest, and there’s a challenge at the end (with a small prize) for people who use the service.

Though I mention Twitter regularly here, I haven’t written about it much. So if you’ve any general thoughts on it – or tips along the same lines as my article – I’d love to hear them.

Some people have separate accounts for shop talk and personal use, but that wouldn’t suit me: too much blending has occurred! I tweet mostly about language, books, writing and editing, but I make room too for chat and miscellany. No breakfast photos, though.


Thanks to all who read the article, left comments, or took part in the challenge. Emphasis now have a follow-up article assessing the submissions and announcing a winner.


10 Responses to Twitter tips for business writing

  1. John Cowan says:

    I don’t twitter, but here’s my version: “Wrtrs agr Bning 2mch=wrk, les=mor” (33 characters).

    And here’s one of my email .sigs:

    “Any legal document draws most of its meaning from context. A telegram
    that says ‘SELL HUNDRED THOUSAND SHARES IBM SHORT’ (only 190 bits in
    5-bit Baudot code plus appropriate headers) is as good a legal document
    as any, even sans digital signature.” –me

  2. Claire Stokes says:

    Great article, lots to practice! (I’m writing over here because I don’t do facebook-related entries in to the Internet database-beast, and didn’t have the other offered choices in place.)
    My contest entry makes some leaps (writing specialists = editors; generally agreed = agree), in general that comes with pithy writing I believe. Myself personally, I prefer wordy nuance.. but twitter demands as it demands!
    One note – I often have to edit other’s tweets in order to RT them, I change the RT to MT for modified tweet.. even if I only change a couple characters. Not sure if that is overly fastidious, or good practice. Hardly ever see ‘MT’, but someone mentioned it once and I’ve been acting accordingly.
    Anyway, thanks for all the great ideas!

  3. Stan says:

    John: Impressive compression. I don’t think they’re looking for the shortest possible reformulation, though the headline might give that impression.

    Claire: Thanks, and you’re welcome! I know what you mean about wordy nuance, but I find Twitter’s character limit a useful constraint. I use ‘MT’ quite often; it’s good etiquette when you’re, umm, tweaking someone’s tweet.

  4. Entering the contest was irresistable. I am satisfied with my version, and after reading everyone else’s entries there is nothing I would change in retrospect. I could give a rationale for my choices, but perhaps that would be more appropriate after the winner is announced.

    Claire, above, mentions having an entry, but I can’t find it on Twitter. I’ve checked thoroughly. What am I missing? (For the benefit of readers, here’s mine.)

    I’m aware it’s been a while since I’ve commented. I just haven’t felt I’ve had anything to contribute, and if I considered saying something, I decided it was too tangential, too forced.

  5. Stan says:

    Adrian: Thanks for taking part. Emphasis will pick one out on Monday, as far as I know. (Here’s Claire’s, by the way; you may have missed it because it lacks the hashtag and is mis-addressed.)

    I don’t have any expectations, comment-wise, but it’s always a pleasure to receive them.

    • Hmm. Several people, including Claire, refer to Robert Browning by surname only. I think that’s a mistake. It assumes the reader already knows who Browning is, while a full name makes it practical to look him up.

      • Claire Stokes says:

        That raises a fascinating issue, that I’ve been wanting to bring up!
        In these days-of-the-internet, I find myself including references in my writing that, in the past, I would have felt a need to explain. But now my test is, can the reader check Google quickly to find out what I’m talking about? Like, in this case, if you type ‘Less is More’ in Google, it delivers the Browning quote right there. So, by that test, ‘Browning’ itself is sufficient.
        My question is, is that a good enough test?
        Of course, there have been writers through the ages who include references that only a small percentage of readers might catch.. But I don’t want to be that obscure or opaque. I’m aiming for a reasonably-accessible quality level. And the writing is all on the internet, so the reader by definition has access to the internet. Is that good then? Or lacking sufficient justification?
        (Sorry missed this before, had a crazy week last week.. and Stan’s blog is always so active, I don’t always have notifications on.. I usually check just check back, but somehow missed this!)

      • Stan says:

        Good question, Claire. I don’t think there’s a hard and fast rule: It depends on your audience, the familiarity of the author (or other reference), space considerations, and other such factors. Generally speaking I would try to include the full name unless the author is someone like Shakespeare, Dickens, or Hemingway. Abbreviating forenames to initials is an option I’ve used on occasion. The last thing you want is for readers to do unnecessary work. It’s also worth noting that just because an article is online doesn’t mean someone is reading it online and can therefore search conveniently – they may be reading it on a printout, for example.

      • I think it can also contribute to tone. A surname-only reference can be read as a signal that your target audience is assumed to be familiar with Browning, and can therefore sound a touch elitist.

      • Claire Stokes says:

        Yes, I take your points! This has been really helpful.. will keep in mind in future writing.

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