Monthly Archives: March 2011

Retweet Glossary, Syntax and Punctuation

“RT” and “via” are the most common abbreviations used, and you can provide retweet attribution to the curator at the beginning or ending of a tweet with a wide variety of punctuation. A good reference to familiarize yourself with is Why Misunderstanding Retweets Can Get You Suspended, which includes information on how and why to credit multiple usernames.

There is no one “right” way to format a retweet (but if you remove the username of the account you found the tweet from you’re doing it wrong). Virtually every Twitter application provides a one-click retweet function, and there are many different standards for how the resulting tweet looks. Some allow you to edit the retweet before sending it, and some (such as the native function at do not allow editing.

1. Glossary of common abbreviations

  1. RT Short for “Retweet.” This is even sometimes spelled out instead of abbreviated.
  2. via Similar to HT or MRT (below), via has lately simply become more of a catchall, often seen simply as an alternative to using “RT.” But ideally, it indicates a modified tweet. See “Why do some people use “via” instead of “RT?” for retweeting?
  3. HT “Hat tip” This is a way of thanking the person who brought something to your attention. It’s sometimes used interchangeably with MRT (see #3 below). More exactly, according to the Blogossary, “Hat tip [HT] is an acknowledgement to someone (or a website) for bringing something to [your] attention.” If you’re not sharing a link or quote from someone, sometimes it’s better not to reference anyone at all lest you seem to be putting words in their mouth. Although it’s source comes from the phrase “Hat Tip” it has since also been thought to represent “Heard Through” (HT to @AndrewSpong for pointing this out).
  4. MRT or MT Short for “Modified (re)tweet,” this usually indicates that you’ve edited the retweet a little, otherwise only a very small amount of editing can  justify sticking with a regular “RT.”
  5. IRT Short for “In reply to” or “In response to” (or very rarely “Ironic Retweet”).
  6. OH “Overheard.” Similar to HT if attributing to a specific Twitter username. Otherwise, just another popular Twitter acronym :)
  7. /by The preferred method for author attribution. Sometimes used with no slash, e.g. “Great article by @user”
  8. /cc This is just a way of including another username in a tweet so they will be notified of it. It comes from the email cc standard to send a “copy” of the email to another person. “CC” originally stood for “carbon copy,” coming from the old business letter-writing standard. Also commonly used with no slash, e.g. “I love this pic [link] cc @user1, @user2″
  9. ta (British) or Ty (American) is slang for “Thank you” that some use: “[Tweet text and link, if any] ta @user” (Thanks to @EditorMark for pointing the British version out.)
  10. QT Means “quoted tweet,” favored by Japanese Twitter users. (Thanks to @DanJDubya for pointing this out.)
  11. r/p or r/t A repeated tweet.
  12. TRT A translated retweet (invention credited to @dominiofeminino)

2. Syntax and punctuation

Here are some common examples (I’ve bolded #5 as my personal favorite):

  1. RT @TweetSmarter: Why Misunderstanding Retweets Can Get You Suspended:
  2. RT @TweetSmarter Why Misunderstanding Retweets Can Get You Suspended: (same as #1 but with no colon after username)
  3. “@TweetSmarter: Why Misunderstanding Retweets Can Get You Suspended: ” (make sure there is a space before the final quote mark if the tweet ends with an URL)
  4. “Why Misunderstanding Retweets Can Get You Suspended: (RT @TweetSmarter)
  5. Why Misunderstanding Retweets Can Get You Suspended: RT @TweetSmarter
  6. Why Misunderstanding Retweets Can Get You Suspended: /rt @TweetSmarter
  7. Why Misunderstanding Retweets Can Get You Suspended: /via @TweetSmarter
  8. Why Misunderstanding Retweets Can Get You Suspended: /@TweetSmarter
  9. Why Misunderstanding Retweets Can Get You Suspended: > @TweetSmarter
  10. /@TweetSmarter: Why Misunderstanding Retweets Can Get You Suspended:

3. How to link to or post a copy of a tweet

There are a number of options here. The main two scenarios are:

  1. Needing to link directly to individual tweet ►
  2. Needing to post a copy of a tweet on a website ►

4. Why are there so many different ways to retweet?

While users experimented a bit with different methods, Twitter shares a lot of the blame. At one time they hid retweets from some in timelines intentionally without telling any0ne, causing an explosion of people experimenting with different methods, believing that Twitter was blocking tweets that had “RT” in them. Then when they created the non-editable style of retweet, they promised that tweets would be updated to show additional information, such as the chain of people who curated a tweet, then dropped that initiative. That’s right—at one time Twitter was working on giving tweets an additional part that could carry more information beyond 140 characters. (It was to be called “Twitter annotations.”)

How Misunderstanding Retweets Can Get You Suspended From Twitter

There are two kind of retweets: editable retweets, and native retweets. Native retweets are what you get if you click “retweet” under a tweet on (or if you have your app set up to work that way). This post is about editable retweets, which used to be the only kind you could use on Twitter.

Retweet standards are about curator attribution. (When you’re looking at a tweet, the curator is the person who posted that tweet). Retweet standards build loosely on internet hyperlink standards, making them essentially two generations removed from old print standards (Print>Internet>Twitter). The most important thing to know is:

► Twitter reserves the right to suspend users for posting tweets without proper retweet attribution if done repeatedly. Here’s Twitter’s rule:

Post[ing] other users’ Tweets as your own” is a suspension-worthy violation of the Twitter rules.

1. Who should get credit…and how?

Everyone needs to get credit—the person who shared the information in a tweet, as well as the author and the site or publication. But the only thing you need to ADD to a tweet turn it into a retweet is the Twitter username of the curator. It’s perfectly okay to include the Twitter username of the content author or website in a tweet or retweet, it’s just not required. Here’s how and where everyone gets credit:

  1. Author — Example: The byline on a blog post. This credits the author, so it’s not necessary to include author username in the tweet. Author attribution takes place at the content level, on the website. This is an age-old standard that works as well on books as on blog posts.
  2. Content (Site/Publication) — The link in the tweet takes care of this, paralleling the hyperlink attribution standard within websites. It’s not necessary to include the site’s username in the tweet because the site has been linked to, and in fact most top sites now have custom short URLs that help identify them, e.g.
  3. Curator — Attribution takes place by the addition of retweet syntax, identifying the source curator’s Twitter username(s). Of course, when you find content in some way other than in a tweet, you simply tweet a description with a link. It’s not necessary to try to find someone to attribute it to. It only needs to be a retweet if you found the content from someone else’s tweet.

So the first job of a retweet is to credit the person who made the tweet that led you to the content—the curator. The chain of attribution is Curator > Site > Author; this ensures all sources are credited.

What if the same person is both the author and the source of the tweet? Generally, we don’t add author names to tweets, since it just makes them longer—which means they get fewer retweets. We figure the author would prefer getting more traffic and retweets vs. seeing their name on the tweet. But for shorter tweets and in a variety of cases we add author names as /by @[AuthorName]. But usually not, especially since the author name is on the post we are linking to anyway.

So if an author has tweeted about their own work, only sometimes will we add the author username to the tweet. After all, we’re sending people to their post, with their byline on it! Under no circumstances would we include their username twice, i.e. RT @[AuthorName] /by @[AuthorName]

Advantages/Disadvantages of giving credit

The more usernames you put in a tweet, the more it helps people connect to those usernames— especially when they are the authors of the post being linked to. And I’m completely in favor of that. But in test after test, longer tweets get fewer retweets, so it’s a tradeoff for an account like ours where we get a lot of retweets.

UPDATE: In 2012, longer tweets still get fewer retweets in tests. But as more and more people are using Twitter’s native retweet button, it matters less, and I’m more and more inclined to include author names as long as I can find them, have the time to add them, and can easily keep the entire tweet under 121 characters.

2. How should users be credited in an editable retweet?

Retweet Glossary, Syntax and Punctuation is a good overview to familiarize yourself with.

Exact style here is not as important as maintaining the attribution chain leading to the original source. This means including all usernames when possible. The great thing about doing this is that you are making a connection with all those users by including their usernames. They will see your tweet because their username is in it.

This isn’t always easy, or even possible. The first step is to be as brief as possible, see “Tips and benefits of being brief when retweeting.”

Giving credit to multiple users

When you find a tweet that is already a retweet (that is, it credits one or more Twitter usernames), if you can edit the retweet into a new retweet that includes all curator usernames and still leave 19 characters of blank space, I suggest doing so. This how the retweet developed on Twitter. If you prefer to use a retweet function that does NOT allow editing, that’s okay too. But editable retweets also allow adding comments, besides bringing attention to the source curators, and are generally preferred by more experienced Twitter users.

Also, putting the usernames at the beginning of a reweet makes it hard to see the content portion of the tweet. I recommend for retweets with multiple usernames putting them at the end. For tweets with one username I think it’s also best at the end, but sometimes putting it at the beginning is a nice way to highlight the user.

3. How much can I modify a retweet?

If a tweet is edited to change its tone, viewpoint or meaning at all, it’s no longer a straight retweet. Don’t change tone or meaning of a tweet and then put it out as a plain vanilla retweet. Politicians are famous abusers of this, trying to make it look like their opposition said something they didn’t and then claiming they are “just retweeting what they said.”

If you want to retweet and add a comment, that’s fine. Putting the language of the original tweet in quotes helps. And using a different abbreviation (see #4 below) may be called for. There are also a number of services that allow you group collections of tweets into a single URL. This can be helpful if you need to comment on a conversation, or collection of tweets.

However the clearest option is often to link to the tweet itself (see section five below for how to). But starting with a regular, editable retweet and then carefully adding your own comment is often easiest.

4. What are some common errors?

► Thinking that the tweeter/retweeter is the blog post author

Don’t retweet someone and state that they are the author or thank them for a writing a post until you have confirmed who actually wrote it. Websites that don’t make the link to the site’s or author’s Twitter account very clearly visible are missing an opportunity, and creating a situation that can lead to confusion. I regularly see tweets thanking a retweeter for writing a post they didn’t write.

► Overlooking the community-building aspect of Twitter

Some feel that, regardless of Twitter’s rules, the content source or author are much more important than the curator. These people overlook the value of Twitter as an information network, and denigrate the role of curator, even going so far sometimes as to remove retweet credit and replace it with site or author credit.

Even if you don’t believe in crediting the curator (and aren’t concerned about having your account suspended), realize that you can curate connections as well as information on Twitter. Simply being generously inclusive with usernames in your tweets has the natural side effect that your tweets will be retweeted more because people will pay more attention to your tweets, and feel more generous towards you. The best part? Taking the simple steps to be inclusive with usernames begins to build a community.

The value of a Twitter community comes in many forms, but two dramatic examples are the $11,000 tweet and raising $13,000 in 48 hours for a friend (actually nearly $17,000 was raised). And as I write this, a Twitter user has just asked for “11 cents from 1,000 people for something stupid” and with no more description than that, has raised over $300 in just a few hours.

► Other errors

I’m going to add to this list, but I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences! Leave a comment and I’ll add the best ones to this blog and link to you. (Knowing myself, I don’t want this post to sit aside for weeks until I can get back to it and fill out this section on common errors.)

5. When should I favorite a tweet instead of retweeting it?

You can use the tweet favorite function anyway that works for you. But you should know there is a large group of users on Twitter who “vote” for each other’s tweets by favoriting them. This informal group mostly relies on humor, and their goal is to get their tweets shown on the “leaderboard.” The leaderboard is a list of the latest, most favorited tweets at sites that keep track, such as and Favotter.

However, Favstar is starting to incorporate other ways besides just “most favorites” of measuring which tweets should be highlighted each day. Nevertheless, realize that many writers of humorous tweets greatly appreciate having their tweets favorited by you :)

6. Are there exceptions?

There are unusual situations sometimes, for example when a website finds it’s content by searching through tweets, and provide some information about the tweets. Some websites make it hard to get at the original tweet information. Other times users tweet things as their own, violating retweet standards, and by retweeting them you are leaving out correct attribution. For example, for interesting quotes about Twitter, I usually do a search of Google realtime to try to see if the original source is someone other than the person who tweeted it.

People can get confused sometimes because they write a blog post, tweet about it, then see other people tweeting about without crediting their tweet as the source. This can mean that the people found the original tweet and are failing to give retweet credit. It can also mean they found the blog post in an search, or subscribed to alerts or feeds that notified them of new posts. That’s how we find most of our info. The reason is that tweets don’t tell me if the info being linked to is new, but feeds and searches do. So I don’t read a lot of tweets, because a lot of them are to old posts.

Tips and benefits of being brief when retweeting

When there are too many usernames on a retweet to include them all easily, it can be tough to figure out what to do. The main tip is to use every method you can to make the tweet as brief as possible. What I do at @TweetSmarter is:

  1. Use a RT standard that is brief.
  2. Rewrite slightly to shorten if possible when beneficial.
  3. Use the native RT function at if I can’t figure it out any other way.
  4. Sometimes if the name of the site’s/post’s author is included, I’ll remove it if it will helpfully save space (and if I notice it).

Of course the first rule of thumb is to include as many usernames as you can, usually while leaving 19 characters blank for others to add to. Including usernames on a retweet is a way to promote users, be generous, and help introduce folks to one another—all good things to do on Twitter.

Ways to be brief when retweeting

The briefest way I know is to include a “RT @user” at the end of a tweet (example 4 below). It saves one character vs adding a “:’ or a “/” and it saves two characters over “/via ” Examples:

  1. Beginning, with colon: “RT @user: …”
  2. End, with slash: “… /rt @user”
  3. End, with slash using via: “… /via @user”
  4. My personal preference, at end: “… RT @user”

I prefer usernames at the end of the tweet, since it keeps the focus on the title/content (the reason something gets retweeted in the first place), and it makes it natural to eliminate the “:” after the username (example 1).

I’ll rewrite a tweet slightly before I’ll remove retweet credited usernames or leave less than 19 characters blank. And finally, if the tweet is unworkable, I’ll just go to the individual URL for the tweet at and use the native retweet function.

Something I’ll do that not everyone agrees with is I’ll remove the author’s name if it’s been included (if I notice), because the article or website will show it (or should). Leaving more empty space increases the amount something gets retweeted, which is what should benefit the author the most: getting more people to see their work.

But honestly if a tweet is too much trouble for virtually any reason, I’ll skip it. For example, sometimes a mildly worded and fun tweet comes from someone with an offensive username, which I’ll usually not retweet. Or if I can’t quickly figure out how to make a slight rewording of a tweet that is too long to include all usernames, I might skip it as well.


How should you credit retweets?

This has been fairly controversial. Rather than comment further, I suggest reading:

Recently @TonyRobbins retweeted a tweet from us, using our text and exact short URL, to his nearly 2 million followers.  The problem was that he removed our username, yet still had 48 characters remaining in the tweet (plenty of room to include us, see “how to be brief when retweeting“).

Many people seem to misunderstand  Twitter’s default retweet style, and general retweet etiquette. It’s admittedly confusing and difficult at times (see “The Retweet Stylebook: A Short Collection of Standards” and “How we find and manage tweets“). As you can see below, @ToniGraziosi’s retweet of our tweet was seen by @TonyRobbins, who then retweeted the tweet as “via @tonigraziosi,” instead of the more appropriate “via @tonigraziosi @TweetSmarter”.

Also, the final step was that @ToniGraziosi followed up with another retweet, to show off that she had been retweeted by @TonyRobbins. (By using Twitter’s default RT style, she would have been unable to add text had she wanted to.)

A general rule of retweet etiquette is that when you see two usernames credited in a source tweet, you should include them both in your retweet, if there is still at least 19 characters of blank space remaining (so that others have room to credit you). A benefit of including multiple usernames on a retweet whenever possible is of course that you are sharing more credit and exposing more users to one another—a prime purpose of Twitter (a networking benefit).

Of course this happens all the time, but most often it is done consciously by users who don’t want to share credit; they usually change the short URL to avoid detection and present the tweet without any retweet credit at all. (Note this is different from the phenomenon of Fake Retweets.)

How valuable is a tweet from @TweetSmarter?

If you’d like us to tweet something that you’ve written, please read “Why we didn’t tweet your link” first, and tell me that you’ve read it if you contact me!

While our most popular recent tweet got ~10,000 clicks (the first image posted via Twitter’s new photo service) 6,000 clicks or so per tweet is a more common maximum in 2011. Although the most clicks we’ve had from a tweet exceeded 23,000, that was a couple years ago when there were more clicks on Twitter posts in general. At the time we were receiving nearly 600,000 clicks/month, and in 2011 it’s around half that.

However, I recently discovered a new blog—a rare occurrence for me to find a new one—and it gave me the idea to share a simple test rather than a bunch of overall numbers.

The blog is by writing lover and ex-journalist @WordsDoneWrite (Amber Avines), an editor living in LA—not surprisingly a great writer of Twitter posts. Amber pointed out that a tweet from @TweetSmarter produced her blog’s “best traffic day ever,” so I thought I’d check further.

Here’s what happened when we tweeted a few of her blog posts about Twitter over a couple of weeks. Numbers are estimated Clicks/Retweets:

As far as results beyond Twitter, I’ve also noticed Amber got a lot of comments on her blog posts as a result of people finding them from these tweets, and she comments that she’s gotten a lot of blog subscribers as well.


How am I supposed to use Twitter?

Sometimes I get questions or criticisms. I’ve learned that a good way to be sure I’m understanding is to ask the question “How am I supposed to be using Twitter?” So I’ve decided to create this post to give people a chance to explain themselves in more detail :) Feel free to leave a comment if you’d like to educate me on what I’m doing wrong, and how I could improve. Thanks!

For the philosophy that I myself follow in educating other users, search Google for “Twitter Rule #1.”