Students and academics of the tech age no longer need to rely solely on library books and use typewritten call cards (remember those?) to find a book to cite for a research paper or college thesis. The Internet has changed the resource game and has made it infinitely easier to access credible and well-informed ideas – students may now cite information from websites and yes, even social networking platforms such as Twitter. In fact, the Modern Language Association has included a provision for citing tweets in its official handbook:
Begin the entry in the works-cited list with the author’s real name and, in parentheses, user name, if both are known and they differ. If only the user name is known, give it alone.
Next provide the entire text of the tweet in quotation marks, without changing the capitalization. Conclude the entry with the date and time of the message and the medium of publication (Tweet). For example:
Athar, Sohaib (ReallyVirtual). “Helicopter hovering above Abbottabad at 1AM (is a rare event).” 1 May 2011, 3:58 p.m. Tweet.
The date and time of a message on Twitter reflect the reader’s time zone. Readers in different time zones see different times and, possibly, dates on the same tweet. The date and time that were in effect for the writer of the tweet when it was transmitted are normally not known. Thus, the date and time displayed on Twitter are only approximate guides to the timing of a tweet.
In short, this is what your citation would look like in MLA style:
Last, Name, First Name (Username). “Place the entire tweet here.” Date, Time, Tweet.
Pretty simple, right? However, imagine having to cite hundreds of tweets. Hello, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome! To address this potentially laborious feat, Web developer Ben Hedlund created Tweet2Cite, an easy-to-use tool that transforms Twitter URLs into properly formed citations. It generates text in both the MLA and APA formats, so any type of paper is essentially covered.
For example, if I am writing a research paper about the Internet and its effects on the healthcare industry. I simply have to find a tweet source, enter its link into the text field, and click on the Go! button.
Almost immediately after, the tweet you referenced will appear embedded on the results page, followed by its corresponding citations, in both MLA and APA style.
“I originally came up with the idea of creating Tweet2Cite after reading an article about how the MLA created a formatting standard for citing Tweets,” shares Hedlund. “At the time of reading the article I was consumed with teaching myself Web development. I had decided that the best way to learn in this field was by doing. I was looking for a project that I could realistically complete with the level of expertise I had, that would increase my skill sets, and would also fill some need in the world; I wanted my project to be useful.”
Hedlund says it took him two days to develop Tweet2Cite. From the time he first thought of the project back in May to the time he actually programmed it just this month, Hedlund also developed a bookmarklet. “From a UX perspective (the bookmarklet) was a bit better, but from a technical perspective (it) came to be unworkable with recent browser developments. The project as a whole was difficult enough to develop, forcing me to learn, but not so difficult that I ran into an insurmountable wall.”
Tweet2Cite is a tool that can be of extreme use to academics and journalists alike – by making it easy to cite Twitter as a source, it should inspire more people to rightfully give credit where it’s due. Aside from tweets, both the MLA and APA seem to have suggestions for citing Facebook posts as well. Although venturing into Facebook citation generation seems like the next step for Hedlund, he says that at this point, he’d like to keep his focus on Twitter posts. “My current plans are to add more Tweet citation format options (Wikipedia citation, Chicago Style, etc.), possibly add user account functionality to provide a persistent history for each user of the site, explore ways to make a better UX for mobile users, and to start playing with ways I can display trends that I’m seeing in the data around which tweets tend to be cited,” explains Hedlund. In order to include Facebook citation functionality in the future, Hedlund says he would need to look at the social network’s API and see how he can implement a similar solution.