Thursday, June 11, 2009

3 Reasons Why Complete Sentences On Twitter Matter

The other day I chuckled at Senetor Chuck Grassley's updates to Twitter. It wasn't the content that I found funny, but the 13-year old girl'esque way they were written. Consider this gem:

Pres Obama you got nerve while u sightseeing in Paris to tell us"time to deliver" on health care. We still on skedul/even workinWKEND.

Or this one:

Pres Obama while u sightseeing in Paris u said 'time to delivr on healthcare' When you are a "hammer" u think evrything is NAIL I'm no NAIL

Does @ChuckGrassley really have to Tweet in proper English sentences? Of course not. But here are three reasons why he, or anyone who publishes for the web, might want to do just this.


Spelling, punctuation, capitalization - it's not just the rules, it's a good idea. As I'm sure Mr Grassley knows, following standard English conventions makes text easier to read. When I see his Tweets, my brain switches from auto-pilot into "oh dear, time to get out the decoder ring" mode.

Bottom line, it makes it harder to understand him, and that defeats the purpose of why he's publishing these messages in the first place.


The second problem with writing in such tortured English is that it becomes a discussion in and of itself. Instead of people talking about what he said, they get mired in the controversy of how he said it.

Why do something that has the potential to compete with your words when a bit of practice, and a couple extra seconds at the keypad, can make the whole point moot?


Finally, making use of excessive abbreviations robs you of one of Twitter's greatest features: the 140 character limit requires terse writing.

I can recall helping my wife edit her Grad School essays. Each question had a ridiculously short word count limit - say 200 words. My wife, a wonderfully pithy writer, would author a short first draft. Naturally, the draft would weigh in at around 400 words. For a a few minutes, we'd kvetch how it was just not possible to to get the word count cut in half. But of course, by being creative, we did. And the essays were better off for it.

By writing in complete sentences on Twitter, you'll regularly run into this problem. You'll have to write and rewrite the one line of text till it's what you mean, yet crisp enough to fit the limit.

It's a wonderful exercise, and one I think @ChuckGrassley would get a lot out of. Consider the quote above about being a hammer and nail. What I think Grassley is referring to is the quote:

When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail

But what could that possibly have to do with Obama's 'time to delivr on healthcare' statement?

Perhaps, with a few rewrites of that Tweet (which could happen in a matter of seconds - you're not writing world class poetry, just coherent statements), he'd arrive a statement which not only sounded good (Mr President, I'm no Nail!) but also, upon further inspection, made sense.


Whatever he does, I certainly hope the Senator doesn't stop Tweeting. What an excellent role model for how powerful and simple Twitter can be as a platform. All you need is a cell phone and an opinion, and you're there. He just might want to consider the advantages of a little polishing up of his work.

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