How To Cite A Tweet In Academic Papers

Twitter is a big part of education and technology. But what happens when it needs to be included in an academic paper? Until now, you had to do your best to guess the proper citation for tweets in academic papers. That all just changed.

Official MLA Twitter Citation Format

The Modern Language Association (MLA, yes that MLA format) just released its official usage for citing tweets in academic papers. Here it is:

MLA gives an example using the famous tweet that acknowledged the attack on Bin Laden’s compound in May:

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

They go on to elaborate on one of the biggest issues with citing tweets: time. In other words, it’s hard to figure out the proper way to say what time a tweet actually happened. When you include timezones, the issue gets even cloudier.

The date and time of a message on Twitter reflect the reader’s time zone. Readers in different time zones see different times and, possibly, dates on the same tweet. The date and time that were in effect for the writer of the tweet when it was transmitted are normally not known. Thus, the date and time displayed on Twitter are only approximate guides to the timing of a tweet. However, they allow a researcher to precisely compare the timing of tweets as long as the tweets are all read in a single time zone.

Have You Cited Twitter?

Have you ever included a tweet in an academic paper? Will you remember to cite in this new MLA format if you do? Don’t you just love that the instructions include the term ‘Tweet.’ at the very end?

Sources: NPR, Zagg Pepper, MLA, and The Atlantic.


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  4. sueburnett

    March 12, 2012 at 12:00 pm

    It’s helpful to see this standardised, but I would have used ‘Twitter’ at the end rather than ‘Tweet’, to reflect the platform.

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  7. danbri

    March 24, 2012 at 2:33 pm

    Absurd not to include domain name, never mind the actual URL.

  8. yvandubois44252

    March 24, 2012 at 7:31 pm

    Who would be crazy enough to cite a tweet in an acedemic paper?

    • sueburnett

      March 26, 2012 at 8:00 am

       @yvandubois44252 How about journalism or history students writing about the impact of Twitter in current communication? Excellent example in the article above about the first indication of an attack on Bin Laden’s compound. Also, bear in mind that academic papers take up to two years to get to print and our use of media is changing far faster than that…

  9. BrandonMeyer

    March 24, 2012 at 9:43 pm

    But aren’t tweets unavailable after they pass the 1,000 mark or some such?  I thought that’s why NYC had to subpoena Twitter HQ for Occupy Wall Street tweets – they were no longer available via the website.

    • heyaudy

      March 26, 2012 at 12:17 am

       @BrandonMeyer The limit is 32,000

  10. heyaudy

    March 26, 2012 at 12:16 am

    Why not use the tweet’s ID? That would preserve the conversation/context as well. Also, I’ve seen the word “tweet” used to describe posts on Seiba Weibo. It’s possible that the term will be become ubiquitous to describe micro-blog posts.

    • sueburnett

      March 26, 2012 at 7:54 am

       @heyaudy I agree the ID would be best, particularly within the URL as @danbri suggests, but I always find it difficult to find the ID for a specific tweet – particularly older ones. Any tips?

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