Seen lots of linking to this Atlantic piece on the Modern Language Association’s new guidance for citing a tweet, and felt moved to respond as I think the advice could be much better. I use Harvard APA rather than MLA, but whatever referencing system you use, the object of the exercise must be to enable your reader to cross-reference your source material for themsleves. MLA’s proposal falls short on this score:
Last Name, First Name. (User name). “The tweet in its entirety”. Date, Time. Tweet.
In his Atlantic piece, Alexis Madrigal describes the decision to omit the unique URL of the tweet as “curious”, relying instead on a timestamp based on the timezone of the reader, not the author of the tweet. I’d say it’s more than curious, it’s just plain *wrong*.
Trying to guess the timezone of the paper’s author and cross-reference it to an old tweet, especially, if the tweeter is prolific, would be a thankless task. While I’m sure Twitter addicts (myself included) would love to have their social media of choice further validated by a bespoke referencing method, it really is surplus to requirements.
Let’s go back to basics and use the Harvard APA method for citing a web page:
Name of author (Year of publication). Title of website based article. Retrieved date accessed, from web address.
Here we gain two vital pieces of information. Firstly, the unique URL for the tweet which offers a one-click check of the source material for the reader, rather than having trawling through old Twitter timelines until getting back to the date of the tweet. Secondly, we know the date it was retrieved by the paper’s author. This could be important if a tweet was deleted subsequent to its retrieval (a good academic author should keep an archive of retrieved web material as content often moves/changes/vanishes).
Also, note the information we gain by using the title of the page (i.e. the title displayed at the very top of the browser window and in the tab). This always takes the format: ‘Twitter / username: first few words of tweet…’. So for this tweet:
— Warren Pearce (@WarrenPearce) March 1, 2012
The reference appears as follows:
Pearce, W. (2012, March 1). Twitter / @WarrenPearce: Telegraph readers will be … . Retrieved March 6, 2012 from https://twitter.com/#!/WarrenPearce/status/175346628666994688
The reader can still identify the material as a tweet, as well as the user name, and we add in a straight-to-the source URL. This provides greater clarity than the MLA’s proposal while maintaining the format already in use for web material.
Although of course you may feel differently. If there are any improvements to be made, do let me know…