Less words, more meanings.

What scientists can “tweet” within just 140 characters?

On average, English sentence has 15-20 words, and each words contains about 5 characters.(http://strainindex.wordpress.com/2008/07/28/the-average-sentence-length/)

Which means, all we can say in the Twitter is just two sentences.  Sounds too brief.

As Japanese, I don’t find it is way too brief, because we have a quite short style of poetry, Haiku. It only allows 17 characters for one short poetry. In haiku, we use only simplified letters, in this letters, one character means only one sound. Can you imagine one short poetry in just 17 syllables?  For enable this feature, amount of meanings are condensed in just one word, and several techniques are used, like double meaning, contextual use of a tag, and historical analogy, Haiku is complexed layer of words.  (if you are interested in, please check this short video, http://www.howcast.com/videos/308374-How-To-Write-a-Haiku )

There are similarity between Haiku and Twitter, because Twitter has also have really short word limits, and because of that, they utilise some features so effectively.

So, when expressing the scientific topic, what can we do with twitter?

Irish researchers, Letierce J, Passant A, Decker s and Breslin J, (2010), researched the use of twitter as media to spread scientific information. Among the researchers of information technology, Twitter was the most favourable tool for spreading information among their community, their tweet mainly targeted for their peers (89%), or students (52%), but also aims for general audience(45%).

“Thus, in majority, researchers from the Semantic Web community set up an account on Twitter and use it to spread scientific information to reach different communities, as well as their peers than a broader audience. Lots of different communities and topics can be found on Twitter [5] [7], meaning that Twitter might be a relevant service to reach broader audiences via scientific messages spread by researchers themselves.” (Letierce J, et al, 2010, p 2)

Well, scientist has motivation to share their message, then, how does the feature of twitter affects the message?  Science often deals with complexed knowledge and information, so how can they communicate in a such brief media?

The clue is on the some features of Twitter. They uses “Hush-tag”, “Retweet”, and “Link” for spreading further information. Hush tags are used for indexing their own tweet, so it indicates the contents of tweet at a glance. Retweet is quoting someone’s tweet, but most of the time, they add some extra, like hyperlink for further information. These features help to develop the idea in original tweet, and to condense the information.

In my opinion, briefness is the key. Under the strict word limit, twitter users are required to aim more brief explanation, more simple wording. that could make science more accessible for everyone. Meanwhile, behind the briefness, each words may have more condensed meaning and require a bit of knowledge to decoding the specific words.

There is one more aspect we can focus, according to the research, among twitter user, credibility in real life strongly affects the credibility on the web, so research top runner gains more re-tweet and more followers. It sounds quite reasonable, but it may gives too much authority for single persons tweets. It is bit unlikely to the value system of the Internet. So my concern is if someone very credible person speaks out loud, and if it contains misconception or confusion, that could cause big issue, and as twitter spreads information quite rapidly, it may difficult to correct later.

In short, less words does not necessary means less meaning. But briefness is double edged sword. Some techniques can help condense the meaning, like layers of words in haiku. Meanwhile, too condensed words may sounds like different language.  So, briefness may works, or may not.  But there are no doubt that twitter as new media has strong force to shift our way of sharing scientific information.


Letirce, J., Passant, A., Breslin, J., & Decker, S. (2010). Understanding how twitter is used to spread scientific messages. Paper presented at the WebSci10: Extending the frontiers of society online, Raleigh, US.


7 comments on “Less words, more meanings.

  1. What a benefit to have a multicultural class and learn beyond the sciences through your blog about Haiku. I think your parallel between the typical Japanese way of using less words to convey meaning and the fashionable Western way to communicate more with less is very interesting.

    I am have no experience with twitter, but I am aware of many science institution now using twitter to spread news messages in cyberspace (and therefore around the world) about new science discoveries and progress made by their researchers. I see it as an initial alert system to accommodate the on demand updating of news 24/7 more than anything else. It will take time to convince me that it is the best way to communicate science.

    The Japanese language and culture may suit the style of Haiku. Will the English language in a global (science) environment similarly suit the style of twitter?

    • Hi Anke,

      Well, I can remember the best example of the twitter worked excellent mean.
      When that massive earthquake hit the Japan in this March, one physics professor kept sending his clear and accurate knowledge about nuclear substances and health issue by twitter. I won’t tell this in detail, because this is my topic of my optional post, but the process was great.
      His tweet was re-organised as brief Q&A by his fellows, and it was published on website, just three days after the nuclear accident in Fukushima.

      As you mentioned, As first alert system, twitter could works quite well, but the information may drowned by following information, so we may need to think about how tweets flow fast and rapid.

      I think English also works quite well in twitter for scientific purpose, since English is quite clear-cut and logical language.
      I tried some haiku written in English, but I prefer four lined sonnet .

  2. Hi Kohei,
    I quite like the use of twitter and facebook for my science needs. Often during the day I won’t sit down and read the newspaper, however I do check these social media regularly, and receive science tidbits online.

    I agree that there is a risk of a credible scientists accidentally saying something incorrectly, but overall I think it is a very powerful tool for getting science ‘out there’. It is easy science, little effort. However, hopefully the briefness does not take away from the credibility and breadth. Great post!

    • Hello again,

      Yes, I agree with Twitter and social networks works well for spreading information.
      But the point is, Who can assure its quality? I mean, If its just about personal story or small chunk of information, its all right, but in those media, each post goes instantly, and its difficult to correct later, and once misconception are given, that would leaves long.
      I know, some institute or public organisation has their twitter account, Facebook has a policy to use real identity (real name), those media representatives has got enough media literacy, but still, I can’t help thinking there must be some “catch”.
      In term of providing scientific information, those “rapid” flow may not useful.

      In my case, I regularly use the bulletin board website “slashdot” for my technology and science topics. At there, amount of user discuss about specific topic based on their own knowledge, and if something is misinterpreted or contains inaccurate information, they are instantly corrected by other users, so it could be called “wisdom of group”.
      I also have registered some newsletter service provided by major science media.

      My point is, I think there must have one filtering system for information before it spreads to the world, like a referee system in a science journal. because for scientific information, objectivity is the key.

  3. Kohei, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to read a Tweet without thinking of haiku now! I don’t use Twitter, but maybe I will in the future because I really like the idea of a little science-poetry scattered throughout my day. (speaking of Science-Poetry: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Cd36WJ79z4)

    As regards the hazards of Twitter, I think I agree with Anke; the damage of mis-information spreading like wildfire across the web could be more harmful than beneficial. I can just picture a typo or rashly posted tweet on a sensitive science/ethics issue, like cloning or abortion or GMOs, causing a ruckus and casting a bad light on the research or even the entire scientific community. Science is hard enough without inviting political controversies like Climategate (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Climatic_Research_Unit_email_controversy). Twitter is probably not the best place for serious topics because of the consequences of tweeting thoughtlessly.

    • Hi miele,

      know that video, because I’m a big fan of Carl Sagan and Richard Dawkins.
      I love the phrase “Poetry in reality” the best.
      Have you read the book “Unweaving the rainbow” written by Richard Dawkins?
      It said, (When science is criticised by a poet for solving mystery of nature in clear cut explanation,) “mystery do no lose their poetry when solved. Quite contrary; the solution often turns out more beautiful than the puzzle and, in any case, when you have solved one mystery you uncover others, perhaps to inspire greater poetry”
      If you interested in, I can send you a book review I wrote for class.

      Climate gate issue is tough case I think. My opinion is, the media should not hop into that controversy such easily, because of uncertain source of information. so my argument back to same point, sorry, credibility.

  4. Hi Kohei!

    This was a really interesting blog!

    I think Twitter could be a very powerful tool. I often get frustrated when what I want to say can’t be cut down to 140 characters! But it does teach you to be concise and you learn to get your message across in the simplest way; saying only what is completely necessary (who knew I would learn something from social media!). This might ‘force’ scientists to take a different approach to communicating their science.

    With respect to the issue of credibility, the scientists/science bodies using Twitter could ‘verify’ their accounts like celebrities do. That way the public knows that the information is coming from a credible source.

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