Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Writing Killer Content in 140 Characters or Less

How do you say what you want to say in less than 140 characters? Ask any writer out there. Writing short is difficult.

But it’s something comedians have been doing for years – writing short, pithy punch lines. Ask Comedian Michael Ian Black who recently decided to add advertisements to his tweets. Black wrote in his blog “As of today, I’ve written 2,655 tweets. That’s a lot of free material, all of it contributing to the entertainment of the 1.5 million people who follow me, as well as the multibillion dollar capitalization of Twitter itself.”

Yes, comedians have the art of writing short down. But so do poets. Talk about imbuing thought-provoking meaning with as few as characters as possible! I don’t know if anyone does it as well as E. E. Cummings.

Whether comedian or poet, writing short is a good skill to have, especially if you have a Twitter account (and who doesn’t?) which caps posts at 140 characters. I once had a mentor who told me the best writing uses the most effective language with the fewest words possible. A good goal whether character restricted or not.

The trick is getting your message across in 140 characters or less without sounding like a monkey with a computer. They say even a monkey with a keyboard can eventually spew out Shakespeare, but I think he might lose his audience first.

Michael Pollan provides a great example of writing meaningful but short content with this 7-word manifesto: eat food, mostly plants, not too much.

Those 7 words say a lot.

That’s what we’re looking to do with Twitter. Say what you need to say in as few as words as possible. The trick is to find ways to let people get to know who you are, what you have to offer, and have a little fun in the process. Writing with only 140 characters can be a limiting handicap.

Or not…getting rid of the necessary words and characters can also be freeing!

I gathered some of my favorite Writing Killer Twitter Content tips, added some of my own, and came up with this list. Here’s Tips on Writing Short in the Twitterverse:

- Choose Your Words Wisely. You want to pick the right words that evoke the right amount of meaning with as few as characters as possible. A thesaurus can help with this. For example, if you have a choice between two words, “lighthearted” and “fun,” go with the latter!

- Get Verbal. Select verbs that are more emotive to get your message across. An example would be to use a word like “leap” instead of “jump.” They’re both energetic verbs with equal characters, but “leap” implies more emotion.

-Lolly, lolly, lolly leave your adverbs here. Dustin Wax suggested on Lifehack that one way to shorten characters is to leave adverbs to a minimum. Adverbs use up important real estate and your content will be perfectly fine without it. Well, there’s an example of an adverb right there. I didn’t need to say “perfectly and fine” to get my point across. Don’t use two words when you can use one.

- KISS. Have you heard the saying, Keep it Simple, Stupid? That notion works here too. One way of doing that is to do what Dom Sagolla recommends in his book 140 Characters, keep your tweets focused on one thought. Hey puts it this way, we need to learn to “say more with less.”

- Writing is in the rewriting. The folks at ReadWriteWeb ask an interesting question. Maybe we should all learn to read and write in Mandarin where each character is actually a word. That’s a great idea, but in the meantime try this tip. Write exactly what you want to say, then begin the process of rewriting; paring it down while keeping an eye on that character count.

- Know the lingo. Twitterville has it’s own grammar. Use it. I promise there will be no school marms tapping your hands with rulers. And if there are, you can ignore them. Some examples of Twitterville Grammar is leaving out unnecessary words such as “that” and “which.” People understand what you’re trying to say without them.

- It’s not about you. Leave out personal pronouns. You can just say, “Going to BlogHer Food!”

- It’s all about you. Lisa Barone reminds us in her post How to Write Better Tweets to be sure to keep Twitter posts personal so people will want to read them.

- Don’t beat around the bush. Tweeting is not the time to be cryptic. Say what you want to say, but leave out the “I think” explanatory phrases. Of course you think it, otherwise you wouldn’t be tweeting it.

- The Link-anizer. If you’ve got more to say than 140 characters allows, write a provocative intro and then link to the rest of it. There are oodles of link shorteners out there – Tinyurl, Hootsuite,, etc. Pick your favorite and use it!

- Size Matters. Copyblogger suggests using small words. They say “…simple words work better than big ones. Write ‘get’ instead of ‘procure.’ Write ‘use’ rather than ‘utilize.’ Use the longer words only if your meaning is so precise there is no simpler word to use.”

- Be Creative. Mark Twain once said, “I don’t give a damn for a man that can only spell a word one way.” Twains words ring true today. English is a living language and Twitter is just the place to have some fun with your word choices.

We hope these tips help you be expansive in your Twitter thoughts while at the same time minimal in Twitter characters!


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