History and Communities

The origin of tweetorials.

We didn't invent tweetorials. In early 2019 we noticed several Twitter threads that went viral -- they were successfully explaining technical concepts to a general audience. We wanted to investigate them as a new form of science communication.

Medical Tweetorials

We found that the medical community had actually started using the hashtag #tweetorial to demark educational Twitter threads, and had even created their own Twitter handle, @medtweetorials, and website, medtweetorials.com, to collect and promote tweetorials as continuing education. They trace the origin of the tweetorial to late 2017 and have been tracking the growth in popularity of tweetorials [Berstein 2019]. Tony Breu, an Assistant Professor of Medicine at the Veterans Affairs Boston Healthcare System, has written a review article on the emergence of tweetorials in the medical domain, their benefits and drawbacks, as well as recommendations for writing tweetorials [Breu 2020].

Social Media as a Source of Scientific News

There has also been research on how social media is impacting science communication more generally. Many people no longer get their scientific news through articles, papers, radio, or television, and instead rely solely on social media or googling as the primary means by which they learn about new topics [Scheufele 2009]. Scientists and other academic figures have begun taking advantage of social media to engage the public with scientific issues and spread their work, even writing a comment in Nature about Twitter as an avenue to educate both scientific and lay audiences [Soragni and Maitra 2019, Britton et al 2019].

Oftentimes, these scientists use social media as a way to educate and speak about contentious issues and current news. The PLOS SciComm blog posted an article on how to use Twitter during COVID-19 [Sullivan 2020]. In addition, after a certain threshold, scientists on Twitter begin gaining a wider variety of followers and are able to increase their reach into non-scientific communities [Côté and Darling 2019].

The Difficulty of SciComm on Social Media

Social media platforms exist in many flavors and each has specific conventions that determine whether a post or comment is successful or accepted by a community. For instance on the popular forum-based site reddit, researchers found that scientific subreddits such as r/science and r/askscience have linguistic barriers of entry. Successful posters often used more formal scientific terms (“abstract”, “isotrope”, “comparative study”), whereas transient or unsuccessful posters often used more personal pronouns [August et al 2020].

In addition, creating engaging content for social media is difficult, from choosing the right keywords to understanding audience preferences across platforms; there are no clear guidelines for what improves engagement [Aldous et al 2019].

Niche Tweetorials

Twitter is full of niche communities that share specific interests. The medical tweetorials are an example of this, where it is fine to discuss plasma osmality because they expect their audience to be medical practitioners. Similar communities exist around explaining mathematical concepts or topics in chemistry. While these may be excellent tweetorials for their audience, in our work we focus on tweetorials aimed at a more general audience.

Our Contribution

While many people are promoting and praising tweetorials, few have investigated how we might help people write tweetorials. MedTweetorials does have a series of tweetorials that walk through Tony Breu's approach, but it's unclear how well this generalizes to other topics or domains.

In our work, we have studied the key structural and rhetorical elements of a tweetorial, and are starting to build automatic feedback tools that aid people in writing engaging explanations. This website serves as a way to share our knowledge about how excellent tweetorials work, as well as to track and promote tweetorials from a wide range of disciplines. We believe the popularity of tweetorials will continue to grow, and we hope our work can help more people write rich tweetorials that reach a wide audience.