Class is in session. The research papers are coming. It’s time to start digging for sources: encyclopedias, journal articles, tweets.

Yes, tweets.

The 140-character Twitter quips have risen to the level of serious scholarship. The Modern Language Association (MLA) and the American Psychological Association (APA), a k a the rule-setters for many a bibliography, have weighed in with suggested formats. One website,, provides a citation when users input the link to a specific tweet.

Students haven’t begun asking for help citing tweets, said Randall Schroe­der, director of libraries, archives and media at St. Catherine University. But he’s sure the day is coming. “I can easily see a political science paper at some point,” he said. “Since politicians have taken to the Twitterverse, sometimes with comedic effect, that’s going to be a primary source document.”

Say you’re writing about terrorism and want to cite the guy who accidentally tweeted the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound. MLA suggests the following:


Athar, Sohaib (ReallyVirtual). “Helicopter hovering above Abbottabad at 1AM (is a rare event).” 1 May 2011, 3:58 p.m. Tweet.


Amy Kristin Sanders, associate professor of mass communication at the University of Minnesota, said court cases and legal research have cited tweets for a couple of years.

Standard citation formats will be helpful, but they don’t answer all the questions that come with citing social media, which can be posted anonymously and deleted at will. “My research is only as good as the primary materials that I used,” she said. “That should be something that anyone else who’s interested in the topic can go back and find.” □