Writing for Twitter: How to Squeeze the Most Value Out of 280 Characters

Editor’s Note: Since we originally published this article in 2017, Twitter expanded its character count limit to 280 characters.  Even though this is double it’s original character count, it can still take some effort to squeeze in your entire message into 280 characters!


Lists of social media tips are full of ideas of HOW to tweet – what days, what times, what topics.

But what about writing the actual tweets? How do you make people smile or laugh, build a relationship, ask them to buy something, or create something they’ll want to share – all in just 140 characters?

Asking writers to say that much with so little can be a tall order. Even ones who spend all day slinging words like short order cooks flipping pancakes might shake their heads in despair every now and then at such a meager word allotment.

So how’s someone supposed to make big statements with tiny character limits?

Good news – it’s easier than you think.

Choose your motive

When it’s time to start loading up a social media queue with new updates, you’ll want to ask yourself what your motive for tweeting might be.

Are you building a relationship with your audience by sharing content you know they’ll love? If so, your focus should be on the article or video, not you.

Do you want your audience to take a specific action – such as sign up for an event or take advantage of a limited-time offer? If so, keep your tweet super clear with important details (date, type of event) and direct to the link.

Do you want your audience to use a hashtag to share their own content on Twitter? If so, give a super clear example of HOW they can do that.

Compose your tweets with this 3-step process

A simple 3-step process will help you knock out your 140 characters in a flash.

Step 1: Provide a tantalizing tidbit

Say you run an online tea emporium, and the article you want to share is about a legendary tea café in Kyoto, Japan. If it is an interesting article to begin with, the simplest way to put a tweet together is to pull a quote from the article.

Perhaps you might find a quote like this: “Brewing tea in this Kyoto café is an art.” Just add your link, and you’re done!

If there’s no quote, or you want to take a little extra time, think about how you can frame the article in a way that reflects your business viewpoint.

For the hypothetical online tea emporium, perhaps they frequently get asked what temperature the water needs to be for good green tea, and your article has advice.

If so, try something like this:

How hot is too hot? This Kyoto café shares the proper water temperature for the finest green teas.

The purpose is to tie a piece of shareable content directly to something your audience wants to know, and show that you’re listening to them.

Step 2: Add some personality

If you have some characters left over, you can add a bit of personality!

Here’s a shorter version of the water temperature tweet, with a slightly different flavor:

This Kyoto café shares the exact water temperature for perfect Matcha. (Yes!)

Tip: If you’re linking to an article on your blog, add click-to-tweets with pull quotes to your post, to make it even easier for your audience to share.

Step 3: Proof and verify

We don’t know if tweets are forever…but your typo will be set in virtual stone unless you delete the tweet. And that’s only if a screenshot hasn’t happened first.

Streamlining your tweets shouldn’t result in missing punctuation, poor grammar, or broken links. (If you’re working in Edgar to create posts, try coming back later to proof when your eyes are fresh – and if need be, edit them in your library.)

If you’re sharing an article (especially a news article), verify the source, while you’re at it – and make sure that the way you’re describing it in your tweet accurately reflects what’s in the post!

What if I need to pack more into this tweet?

If you’ve flown recently, you’ve probably thought a lot about how to avoid extra bag fees. Maybe you manage a small suitcase for the overhead and a backpack for under the seat, but you still have a purse, or a cooler bag of snacks. Somehow, you squish the third bag into that backpack, and you make it onto the flight!

Adding images to your posts or using Twitter cards is the equivalent of sneaking extra snacks into your post without costing you any extra.

Here’s a great example from National Geographic:

You get not only the usual amount of space, but also an image, and the text in the automatic link preview. Sweet!

(You can learn more about setting up Twitter Cards here.)

Of course, a regular ol’ image can be just fine, too. Throw some text on a graphic, and you’re basically upgrading your character allotment for free!

Illustrating data with charts, tables, stats, and graphs is another way to have easily-digestible info right in front of your audience’s eyeballs.

Make friends with your thesaurus

Social shorthand like acronyms and emoji is another tool to maximize characters, but should only be used when appropriate (more here) and with restraint.

But there’s another way to cut characters without resorting to

If you haven’t checked out a thesaurus in a while – or if you think it feels too much like cheating – think again! Cruising for shorter synonyms can be just the trick when you need to squeeze just a little more into a limited space.

Here’s an example of putting a thesaurus to use.

This tweet is 144 characters without any room for a link:

Composing compact tweets can be difficult when you have an abundance of things to discuss with your audience and want to increase participation.

Activate the thesaurus and simply search your word for other options.

Another word for ‘composing’ is ‘writing.’ +2 characters

Another word for ‘compact’ is ‘mini.’ + 3 characters

Another word for ‘difficult’ is ‘hard.’ +5

Another word for ‘abundance’ is ‘lots.’ +5

Instead of “increase participation,” try “engage them.” +11

Writing mini tweets can be hard when you have lots of things to discuss with your audience and want to engage them.

Voila! Now you have a 25 character surplus – and room to add in your link.

As with anything in life, though, be mindful of overusing your thesaurus, or else your post may sound like a meaningless string of words.

If you don’t recognize the word the thesaurus suggests, don’t use it just because it has fewer characters!

Don’t take writing a tweet too seriously

Every writing medium has its limitations. Unless you’re planning on a tweetstorm, you aren’t going to fit a small novel’s worth of ideas into just one tweet. And hey, that’s okay!

Try incorporating some of these ideas into your own writing practice, and see if they help you put the emphasis on what matters most – growing your audience – rather than struggling to find just the right words.

Do you have a special process for composing tweets?

Any hacks you’ve learned to pack more into each post?

Let us know in the comments!