Tips for writing academic paper threads
The Title of your article is your billboard, but you can also advertize your work with paper threads. Here is how to make the most out of this latest genre in scientific writing, which has taken academic Twitter by storm.
Cite as: Kamoun, S. (2022). Tips for writing academic paper threads. Zenodo https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.5833583
In the “Don’t perish” workshop on writing scientific papers, I emphasize the importance of the Title. The Title of your article is your billboard. Most of the people who will come across your papers, by browsing the literature, querying search engines or reading your CV, will only read the Titles. Even when they are not particularly interested in the topic you cover, they will still get exposed to your Titles. In the workshop, I wildly speculate that for every 100 people who will read the Title, about 10 will read the abstract and perhaps only one of those will actually read the full paper.
Therefore, given their wide reach, it’s critical that Titles are informative and provide readers with assertive statements that convey useful tidbits of knowledge. Make your readers learn something from your Titles and they’ll remember you and your work.
The paper thread
These days, however, we have social media to further diseeminate and advertize our work. The emergence of a new and popular scientific writing genre — the paper thread as Lynn Chiu has coined it — has taken academic Twitter by storm. The paper thread is a narrative about your paper posted on social media, typically Twitter. It’s one example of recent efforts to communicate science in a more spontaneous manner beyond the outdated rigid norms of academic writing. The final product — the published formal paper — can sometimes be sanitised to the point that the broader context gets lost and even the wider scientific message meddled by the dry and unemotional language of academic papers. The paper thread, in contrast, can convey the message that the scientific paper is not just the product of tedious academic work but also the result of a human experience filled with emotion and drama. The paper has more often than not gone through a circuitous journey to its publication — and that journey can be interesting in itself.
For example, check this inspiring paper thread by Kelsey Wood, Research Plant Pathologist with the USDA, about the main research paper from her Ph.D. at UC Davis. Kelsey takes us back to her time in high school and how she was inspired by the sequencing of the human genome to study genomics. So here she is 10 years later, turning genome sequence information into biological findings and earning herself a Ph.D. in Genetics.
Reach out to a wider audience
The limited reach of technical scientific papers is well known, and there have been efforts to complement the papers and remedy their overly technical nature. The rise of the visual abstract — graphics that summarize the paper’s key findings — is one such innovation. Another is the publication of companion pieces about the authors that describe personal bits and anecdotes that go beyond the paper. Traditionally, many broad authorship journals would append the most impactful papers with News & Views or Perspective articles written in a more accessible and shorter style than the paper itself.
The key message here is that to widely communicate your science and explain what your paper is about, the journal article itself may not be enough. But why rely on journals to help you do this? You can take control of the narrative and tell your story and the story of your paper directly through a paper thread.
Scientific publishing is changing fast. Posting a Twitter thread that summarizes the story and attracts readers allows you to maximize exposure to your paper. This can also be an opportunity to give your paper a personal twist, with a behind the paper type of narrative. It’s your paper, it’s your story. Just tell it the way you want to.
Tips for writing paper threads
Here is an attempt at listing some tips about wirting paper threads. As always, your feedback is most welcome.
· Tell a story. The best threads go through a classic story narrative, perhaps not as dramatic as these, but a story nonetheless.
· Avoid being too wordy. Shorter is better.
· Link to the paper in the first tweet so interested readers can easily navigate to it.
· Make sure you have one image, video or a web link in each tweet.
· Make sure images and graphics carry the messages you want to convey. Don’t repeat what’s in the visuals.
· Something personal is good, e.g. this is my PhD work, I started this project 5 years ago etc.
· Best time to post is between 1–3PM European time. This is good for the US, incl. West Coast, Asia, as well as Europe.
· Post the thread soon after the paper comes out not a week or two later.
· Don’t over do it. A thread of <10 tweets is enough. Don’t forget: less is more.
· Number your tweets 1/n so readers know where they are in the thread.
· Add hashtags to the first tweet so the thread can be easily retrieved by you and others.
· For updated versions, link up to old tweet rather than repost everything.
· Twitter thread your preprints, and then link back to the thread when the journal article is published.