Twitter is hailed as a great exercise for writing and editing—you know that. There’s a social media platform for everyone, and Twitter is the home of the succinct. The character limit is what sets Twitter apart from Facebook, Tumblr, Google+, and whatever else, and it keeps individuals prone to overlong overshares away. Or it should.
But just because you have 140 characters—and fewer if you’re adding a link or a hashtag or trying, on top of that, to leave room for a manual retweet—doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice grammar. You’re a smart person. Unironic, unmeta txtspk is your enemy.
So before you consider breaking your one tweet into two, I know you’ve—
- delivered your shortest and strongest verbs,
- whittled your “university words” down to their most blunt synonyms,
- and deleted all thats, whichs, and personal pronouns.
When faced with the prospect of breaking grammar law, you must carefully choose what to sacrifice. Speaking to you as a zealous copy editor and daily Twitter user (if you talk to @PaperDarts, you’re usually talking to me), I want to help you tweet without looking like a twat. Grammar-wise, I mean.
I present to you my Twitter Manual of Style (Really Running Out of Options Edition).
1. Know your shortcuts
This isn’t actually breaking any rules, but it’s something a lot of people don’t think to do. Change that double dash (--) or triple dot (...) to its symbol and single character equivalent.
Em dash (—):
- Windows (with number pad): Alt + 0151
- Mac: Option + Shift + -
- Windows: Alt + 0133
- Mac: Option + :
I want to point out that it was Courtney venting about em dashes that prompted me to strategically revisit my youthful pastime of holding down alt/option and hitting other keys to see what happened. I don’t need Word or Adium to autocorrect my non-symbols anymore. It’s oddly empowering.
2. Ignorance is bliss
Technical rules are only worth adhering to when space allows it. Spelling is one thing. Your versus you’re is critical. But how about these variations on a theme:
1:30 – 3:00 PM
I know which one is right (and this may be style guide subjective), but not everyone does. Cash in on that and get characters to spare. The same goes for setting off titles with quotation marks or adding a ™ symbol for any reason other than fun. No one’s gonna know, and if they do know, they’ll give you a free pass. If this copy editor can overlook it, others can too. And if you weren't already aware, adding two spaces after a sentence went out of style with the typewriter, so for the love of god, don't do that on Twitter. Or anywhere else.
This is where txtpsk comes into play. Vowels are for the weak anyway, amirite? Abbreviate commonly abbreviated words. I don’t mean changing National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to “NAACP”—I can only hope you’re already doing that. Swap out appointment with appt, weekend with wknd.
Two abbreviations or weird acronyms in one tweet are all right. Three is pushing it.
You could argue this is more correct than abbreviations, but while 54 in place of fifty-four falls under the “ignorance is bliss” rule above, 3 for three looks sloppy to anyone who got a B in high school English.
You’re still not allowed to put 2 in place of to or too, but I’ll allow you 2 for two. 1 for won is verboten.
5. Symbols, Revisited
Apparently you’re writing some kind of twitnovel if my previous tips haven’t worked. Fine. Use + for plus, & for and, # for number, and @ for at. Know that the last two have their own functions in Twitter, so use them at your own peril.