Considering Twitter for “Essay” Writing

In her contribution to the Digital Pedagogy Lab, “Twessays and Composition in the Digital Age,” Donna M. Alexander, American Studies lecturer at University College Cork, makes a case for integrating Twitter into the college essay writing process. She likens Twitter and essay-writing to haiku and poetry. Twitter and haiku both rely upon the writer to be focused and adept at conceptual imagery in a succinct presentation format. Alexander and researchers she cites, believe Twitter can “contribute to student learning in terms of critical thinking and engagement”. She provides interesting examples of assignments in which her students were asked to provide a 140 character response to a writing prompt; even her assignment description was provided as a Tweet.

I must confess that I had to re-read Alexander’s article a few times and then spend some time reviewing the examples of students’ responses before I actually “got it”. I put this struggle directly on my own aging shoulders. I have not grown up with social media, nor have I tweeted much of anything in any seriousness. To start to consider the potential of a writing “tool” with which many students are not only comfortable, but fluent, took a bit of suspension of my own disbelief and a bit more critical thinking. But I now have a glimmer of an idea of how I might try to integrate a “tweessay” into my own course, in a meaningful way. Currently I require several one minute papers on course content or readings, for which the student response is provided in a Canvas survey posting. Students are asked to identify a “muddiest point” and a “salient takeaway” related to the content. I am envisioning replacing one of these surveys with a Tweet in which students provide feedback in 140 characters, visible to and shareable by all. It will then be interesting to get their feedback on their perceptions on the effectiveness of these formats for providing me with their feedback.

Old dog, new trick. Yes, I think I can be taught…even though it is nearly impossible for me to communicate in 140 characters or less!

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55 thoughts on “Considering Twitter for “Essay” Writing”

    1. Ah, and there’s the rub. I am all thumbs when it comes to Twitter. But, Lyra, for the opportunity to see how you are employing this in your course, I shall make the effort! Thanks for sharing.e

  1. I haven’t read the original article yet, Deb. but I love the idea of using Twitter like this. Twitter is a very powerful mechanism that makes you really distill the point you’re trying to make down to 140 characters. Platforms like blogging and Facebook encourage more of a stream-of-consciousness style of writing, and sometimes that is appropriate. But it’s so refreshing when you read a tweet that is just simple and succinct, compared with what happens sometimes in Discussion Boards, for example, where students aren’t sure when to stop writing. This tweet from the #Lyra hashtag search is a good example of “short and to the point”:

    “Idea mapping is vital strategy to recognize all sides of an issue since bias can make people too critical towards alternatives #lyra101”

    Also, there are some tricks that seasoned tweeters use to get the most out of the platform — the most common is to abbreviate in order to use the 140 characters most efficiently. Another trick is to write a numbered series of tweets. Each tweet is connected to one main thought, but is a 140 character “chunk” of its own. I think most people who write a series of tweets like this first write them out in paragraph form in Word or Notepad. Then they decide where it makes sense to break up the text into 140 character tweets. This exercise really makes the writer think about the words they are using and the point they are trying to make. If you felt that 140 characters is just not enough for your activity, you could always assign a series of, say, 3 tweets.

  2. I’m not a tweeter, not a social media person. To me, the use of Twitter is like texting, quick and short to the points. So, this is an eye opener to me to see so many creative uses of Twitter. Thanks for sharing, Deb.

  3. The first part of your Tweet should be around 90-100 characters. This text should be attractive, show off your brand qualities, and include a call to action. Yes, Twitter’s character limit is 140; however, if you’re going to ask people to re tweet your Tweet, make sure you leave enough room for them to add ‘RT’ to the body of the Tweet. For more details, pleast visit at

  4. Thank you for blogging about my article! I would love to hear about any ways that you use Twitter and twessays in your teaching.

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  8. The first part of your Tweet should be around 90-100 characters. This text should be attractive, show off your brand qualities, and include a call to action. Yes, Twitter’s character limit is 140; however, if you’re going to ask people to retweet your Tweet, make sure you leave enough room for them to add ‘RT’ to the body of the Tweet.

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