Michael He

February 26, 2022

Thoughts About Tweet Length

I've been thinking about writing on Twitter lately. I don't know how to do it well, but good tweets (note: not the same as viral tweets) probably have something behind them.

Tweet length

Assume each word is 6-7 characters (an arbitrary parameter) and a space bar, 280 characters equal 35-40 words, or 3-4 sentences. Essentially a short paragraph. 

If you can't write in this length, go back to practice basic sentence writing. What do you mean you can't express an idea in a paragraph! Sadly, that is the reality for many who learned to write jargon-y from college and their respective careers.

Basic sentence writing is extremely underrated in writing education. What is writing other than writing one sentence, and then another, and then another? Most people's learning experience is essentially making Beef Wellington (with that five-paragraph essay BS) before even knowing how to crack an egg (write one clear sentence).

Maybe Twitter is actually a decent place for students to practice writing? Express yourself to the void and submit your best efforts for feedback (with teachers and fellow students). You can write about anything you'd like. It doesn't have to be on Twitter - it can be a number you text, since carriers also have character limits.

Threads

I'm surprisingly not bullish on how most threads work. I don't think we should write threads, unless we have to. By have to I mean "it's so good and important that one tweet is definitely not enough".

There is no optimal length for threads, but 5 or more is probably more than enough. Assume a one-page word doc runs around 400 words (with some spacing and bullet points), that's about 10 tweets. Half a page takes up about 5 tweets.

Good ideas that spread on Twitter probably won't exceed a one-page essay.

Musings

One caveat is how URLs can eat into the character limit. It often takes up 10-30 character spaces, so that's an entire sentence. Twitter should keep this separate but there's probably both design and engineering rationale behind not doing so. Jack Dorsey and the product team weren't stupid.

Shorthand and slangs can definitely lengthen word count, to an extent.

Languages matter a lot in terms of length. 140 characters in Chinese is plenty, but in English is very little. Similarly, German tweets probably contain less words than English ones due to their generally longer spelling.