Twitter Citations in Academic Writing


The Modern Language Association recently recognized that a writer’s best original source for information sometimes may come from Twitter updates. Acknowledging that news and events often break quickly or sometimes first on Twitter, the MLA devised a standard rule for properly citing a tweet in an academic paper.

Twitter, originally intended to let people instantly share what they were doing in 140 characters or less, has grown to become a communication channel for people to hear breaking news, companies to offer customer support, celebrities to connect with fans, and political activists living under oppressive regimes to reach a global audience.

While a tweet probably will not take the place of a journal or full research publication in terms of academic value, a tweet can offer value in a number of other ways. As a means of conducting academic research, Twitter can be a rich platform for both academics and businesses to explore public opinion on topics, gain news “from the ground,” and check for updates on a situation more quickly than traditional media outlets can publish.

However, simply because you can now add tweets to your papers doesn’t mean you should – the credentials of the “tweeter” and the relevance of the information to your topic should always determine the value of the tweet.

The MLA offers these guidelines for including a tweet in the works cited list:

Last name, first name (Username). “Full text of tweet.” Date, time. Tweet.

  • If only the username is known, give it alone. 
  • Reproduce the entire text of the tweet exactly, including capitalization, abbreviations, and misspellings. Use quotation marks. 
  • The date and time of a message should reflect your time zone. Using a consistent time zone will help future researchers precisely compare the timing of tweets as long as the tweets are all read in a single time zone.
  • Conclude the entry with the single word Tweet.

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

Office of Research (UNLresearch). “UNL physics team part of hunt for Higgs boson” 5 July 2012, 7:34 p.m. Tweet.

The American Psychological Association (APA)’s guidelines for citing a tweet differ slightly from the MLA style.

Twitter handle. (Year, Month Day). Full text of tweet. [Twitter post]. Retrieved from website URL.

Reproduce the author’s name as written in the Twitter post. Alphabetize by the first letter in the username.

The date should include the year, month and day, but not the time.

Reproduce the entire text of the tweet exactly, including any URLs that might be contained in the post. Do not use quotation marks.

Identify the type of source as a Twitter post in brackets.

Include a URL that leads directly to the post rather than to the feed in general, in order to be as direct and specific as possible about what is being cited.

@BarackObama. (2009a, July 15). Launched American Graduation Initiative to help additional 5 mill. Americans graduate college by 2020: [Twitter post]. Retrieved from

@UNLresearch (2012, July 5). UNL physics team part of hunt for Higgs boson[Twitter post]. Retrieved from!/UNLresearch

@ABC7News (2012, July 6). President @BarackObama is expected to sign a bill that prevents college loan interest rates from doubling today. [Twitter post]. Retrieved from!/ABC7News