The anatomy of a tweetorial
TechTweets has analyzed dozens of Twitter threads explaining complex topics. Most tweetorials are between 8-25 tweets, and they tend to follow a three-part structure:
The hook is the first tweet in the tweetorial. An effective hook not only draws readers in but also compels them to keep reading. One way to write an effective hook is to create curiosity.
Research in psychology suggests curiosity peaks when we know a little bit about something, but not too much. We also tend to be more curious about things that are relevant to our lives. An effective hook can create curiosity by drawing attention to a gap in understanding that the reader then wants to fill.
Here are two hooks that make the reader curious:
"Why do my fingers get all wrinkly when I take a bath?” This was the question my 3-year-old daughter asked me recently after bath time.
I thought for a minute, then realized I didn't have a clue.
The explanation is so much cooler than I had expected... https://t.co/mFyeKm8Edc
Each of these hooks starts with a story. On the left, @tony_breu starts with a question his daughter asked him at bathtime; on the right, @GeneticJen starts with a discussion she was having about evolution.
But then, each hook takes an unexpected turn. @tony_breu realizes he doesn't know the answer to the seemingly simple question his daughter asked. @GeneticJen gets defensive as someone insists that dung beetles are boring. These unexpected turns create gaps in understanding in the minds of readers. The curiosity that arises compels readers to want to find out more.
Using a strategy of creating curiosity, we have three recommendations for writing an engaging first tweet:
If you want to learn more about writing an effective hook, check out our interactive tutorials:
The body consists of one or more narrative "chunks," typically ranging from 3-12 tweets. We've identified four common narrative chunks that appear in tweetorials:
The tweetorial describes how a scientist--or even the author--embarks on a journey to learn something.
For example, @GeneticJen follows scientist Marie Dacke in discovering how dung beetles are able to navigate even on moonless nights.
The tweetorial describes an application, or “use,” of the concept, often through a real or hypothetical character.
For example, @yashar describes how a candidate running for Senator might commission a 'self-research' packet, and what that packet would contain.
The tweetorial describes some component of the complex topic or process as if it’s a character.
For example, @Foone explains how the brain solves the problem of our vision blurring during quick eye movements--but from the perspective of the brain itself.
The tweetorial tells a story that illustrates or exemplifies a point the author is making.
For example, @IAmSuyiDavies describes the Benin Empire as an example of how an African empire was not left off better from colonization.
Our recommendation is to organize your tweetorial using one or more narrative chunks.
The “payoff” typically takes place in the final 1 or 2 tweets of the tweetorial. An effective payoff satisfies the curiosity the tweetorial created in the hook. Often, this simply means answering the question explicitly or implicitly posed in the first tweet.
Next time my daughter takes a bath, I'll explain that her fingers look like raisins because she has intact sympathetic vasoconstriction with resulting retraction of fingertip pulp and that the density of eccrine sweat glands in her hands contributes.
She’s come to expect it.
On the left, @tony_breu returns to the story about his daughter by making a joke about how she's come to expect technical answers to simple questions. On the right, @GeneticJen reveals a larger lesson about nature, reinforcing her initial claim in the first tweet that the dung beetle is an amazing animal.
Considering these two examples, we can offer two recommendations for payoffs:
Regardless of which strategy you choose, the most important thing is to make sure you answered the tweetorial’s original question.