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Researcher Development

Researcher Development


The basics

Twitter is a blend of micro-blogging, social networking, and instant messaging. Your posts (tweets) have a 280 character count (which includes links, hashtags and emojis), and can include images, gifs, and links.

You can follow other users, which means their tweets (and some tweets they ‘like’) in your home feed (the home page that displays when you open Twitter). Other people can also follow you, and your tweets will show in their feed.

Twitter can be a little confusing when you first look at it, so here are the key things you need to know to get started. Let’s take look at what different bits of this example tweet from the Doctoral College’s twitter account mean.

You can download a version of this image in Microsoft Word.

A retweet is like a re-post, so the tweet appears on your feed for your followers. Retweeting with a comment (also called a quote tweet) means it is reposted but you can add your own comments together with the re-posted tweet. In this example, Kelly Preece has retweeted Exeter Doctoral and added her comments.

You can also ‘thread’ tweets, which means you create a chain of tweets all linked together. Useful if you’re telling a story or sharing a number of links or resources on the same topic.

Who sees what?

On Twitter, it can be a little unclear who sees what tweets. Here are some examples (with fake usernames).

  • @Me: Really excited to start tweeting and connecting! – This tweet will be in the home feed of anyone who follows @Me
  • @Me: @Friend Hi! How are you doing? – This will be in the home feed of anyone who follows both @Me and @Friend. If @Friend replies to this tweet, anyone who clicks on @Me’s tweet will be able to see the reply underneath.
  • @Me: Interesting talk at #Conference2021 today – As well as being the home feed of anyone who follows @Me, it will also be in the feed for the hashtag #Conference2021 (which you can find by searching for the hashtag or clicking on it directly).
  • @Friend23: Can’t wait to meet @Me for a coffee later. –  This will show in your notifcations tab because you’ve been tagged in.

It’s important to remember, however, that Twitter is a public platform, so replying to a tweet is never private (and will show in your “tweets and replies” tab on your profile). If you want to have a private conversation, it’s best to use the direct messages (“DMs”) feature, which you can find in the messages tab, which are private.

Twitter etiquette

Like all social spaces, Twitter also has a social etiquette. But it’s difficult because, like other social spaces, people have different views on what the ‘rules’ are and they are often hidden and unspoken! The more you use Twitter, the more you will get a feel for the different ways people use it and the ways you feel comfortable using it. Here are some general ideas to get your started:

  • Remember that when you “@” someone in a tweet, you are sending the tweet to them. For example, if you’re writing a review of a book or paper you hated, don’t “@” in the author.
  • Remember even if you “@” someone, they might not see your tweet, so don’t badger them or get angry. If someone has a lot of followers, your tweet may simply get lost in the huge number they receive, or they might have their notification set to “following only”, which means they only see the notification from the people they follow rather than everyone.
  • No one owes you a conversation. If someone doesn’t want to engage in conversation or debate with you – let it go. Equally – you don’t owe anyone debate or conversation.
  • Relatedly, you can block and report abusive tweets and twitter users.
  • Make sure you have a profile picture (it doesn’t have to be of your face). The default ‘egg’ picture makes people think you are a spam account.
  • Always remember Twitter is a public forum. Check out the “personal vs professional” section below for more discussion on this.
  • Check out the Twitter tips section below for information on how use Twitter well, and the accessibility section for how to make your tweets accessible to a range of users.
More training
  • Free social media online course on Coursea
  • Some college communications teams offer social media training for staff & PGRs
  • You could also try the @JMGardnerMD 30-day Twitter challenge to start building your account:
  1. Check Twitter daily for a month
  2. Retweet 3 things daily
  3. Follow 3 new accounts daily
  4. Make 1 tweet of your own per week

A common question people have about Twitter is whether you should have separate accounts for your research/professional life and your personal life. There is no right answer to this and it’s completely dependent on how you want to use Twitter. Some different ways academics use Twitter:

  • “I have one account for everything. It’s more natural to me that way because my identity as a researcher can never be completely separate from my other identities as a cyclist, baker, mum, daughter, etc. I tweet about anything and everything I want!”
  • “I have one account for everything, but I’m careful about how much I tweet about personal opinions and events. It’s mainly professional I suppose but with some personal. All professional would be a bit boring.”
  • “I have one account but I only use it for professional purposes. I use Facebook for anything personal.”
  • “I have a few accounts actually! One is mainly research-focused, one is for my book review blog, and the other is a personal one. I like to split it all up.”
  • “I have one professional one which does include some personal things (because I’m a human not a robot), and another personal one which is set to private where I share personal views much more openly”.

There are two main issues to consider when figuring out how to make your Twitter account work for you:

  1. Assume everything on Twitter is public, even if you have a private account. Even if you have a private personal account, someone who follows you there could screenshot your tweet and post it publically or share it with others. It’s also becoming increasingly common for future employers to check your social media accounts when you apply for a role. Whenever you tweet, imagine everyone (including those you work with) can read it.
  2. Being a whole, human person on Twitter can make some people more likely to follow you, but it can make others less likely to follow you because they’re only interested in one particular thing, such as research. Everyone has a different view on what is ‘professional’ and how much that includes other aspects of your identity. There are no easy answers, so it’s about what you, personally, are comfortable with.

The University of Exeter also has social media guidelines which you need to consider, especially if you are tweeting about the university or identify yourself as working for the university (in tweets or in your bio).

  1. Follow some different academics, researchers, and PGRs on Twitter. Make a note of how they use their Twitter account. What do you like about accounts that are mainly research-focused, and what do you like about accounts that include personal tweets? What don’t you like?
  2. Look at the list of reasons, in the next section, you might want to use Twitter, think about what you want to use your Twitter for.
  3. Think about the different areas of your life (for example, research, hobbies, political views, activism, family, health, etc.). Consider your notes on what you liked / didn’t like on other accounts, and what you want to use Twitter for, reflect on where your boundaries are in what you would want to share and not share on Twitter.

This section has some tips and ideas for how to use your Twitter account for research communication.

Thick versus thin tweets

A researcher called Bonnie Zink talks about the idea of ‘thick’ versus ‘thin’ tweets. Thin tweets lack depth and usually aren’t as engaging, whereas thick tweets have more layers of information and can be connected to wider networks through hashtags. Bonnie Zink puts it like this:

You can download a text version of this image.

You can make your tweets “thicker” by doing things like:

  • Not just posting a link to a paper, but saying what it’s about, why it interests you or what you thought about it, or why someone else might want to read it.
  • When tweeting about a conference, include the conference hashtag to connect it with other tweets about the conference, or so your followers can click the hashtag in your tweet to find more.
  • Use images, gifs, or video in your tweet (though making them accessible).
What kinds of things can you tweet about?

Anything that you like! Check out the previous personal vs professional section too. Here are some research-specific ideas from the ESRC:

  • Details of new publications or resources you’ve produced
  • News items that feature your research
  • Links to any blog posts you’ve written
  • Thoughts on conferences you attend
  • Questions to invite feedback
  • Interesting news items you’ve found
  • Interesting photographs
  • Replies to other people’s tweets
  • Retweets of other people’s tweets
Any other tips?
  • Try to engage in conversations, rather than just posting links to your own stuff. Retweet others, reply and get involved in discussions, use and follow conference hashtags, ask questions.
  • Have a clear bio on your profile page saying what you do or are interested in (and don’t be afraid to include non-research interests too).
  • Include your Twitter handle in your presentations and your email signature.
  • The more people who are able to read your tweets the better, so make sure you tweet in an accessible way for disabled people. You can find more detail on this in the accessibility section.
Example accounts

If you’re not sure where to start, these are some recommended accounts and academic hashtags you might be interested in:


  • @ExeterDoctoral – Exeter Doctoral College
  • @LSEimpactblog – on the impact of academic research
  • @POST_UK – Parliamentary Office for Science & Technology
  • @edyong209 – science writer for The Atlantic (a good example of engaging research communication)
  • @PhDForum – peer support for research students
  • @ThesisWhisperer – researcher with a blog full of useful advice for PhD students
  • @FromPhDtoLife – a coach who specialises in helping PhD students to explore careers
  • @WriteThatPhD – Resources to help you ‘write that PhD’
  • @ThomsonPat – researcher with a blog full of useful advice for PhD students
  • @LegoGradStudent – tweeting about higher education experiences using Lego


  • #TweetYourThesis – Annual competition by @ExeterDoctoral in which people tweet about their research. Good place to find out what Exeter PGRs are working on.
  • #PhDWeekend – find peer support with other PGRs who need to work flexibly
  • #ShutUpAndWrite – find people who want to do some Pomodoro writing blocks
  • #acwri – on academic writing
  • #PhDChat – find peer support with other PGRs
  • #PhDLife – find peer support with other PGRs
  • #AcademicWeekend – find peer support with other PGRs who need to work flexibly
  • #PhDProblems – find peer support with other PGRs
  • #WithAPhD – Run by @PhDtoLife on careers with a PhD


@NewResearcher is a research student who has just started using Twitter but isn’t sure how to make their tweets interesting or how to use them to interact with others. This is their current feed. How would you re-do the tweets to make them more engaging and in your own style?

Text-only version:

@NewResearcher: At a conference talk.

@NewResearcher: Published:

@NewResearcher: I wonder if I’m the only one finding my upgrade tough to prepare for.

@NewResearcher: Reading in the library with a coffee.

There are all sorts of reasons why some tweets may be inaccessible for some users. For example, the person may be D/deaf or hard of hearing and unable to hear the sound in videos, they may be blind and using a screen reader (which speaks the text on websites), or they may have dyslexia and find it difficult to read some kinds of fonts or dense text.

Making your tweets more accessible means you are not inadvertently excluding disabled people. As a bonus, many of these changes also make your tweets easier to read for everybody, which hopefully mean more people take the time to read them.

You can download a text version of this image. You can also find lots of useful examples in this Twitter thread by Robot Hugs.


Look back at the tweets you wrote in earlier activities or on your own Twitter feed if you’re already tweeting. How could you make them more accessible?

Think about all of the sections in this resource on Twitter and the activities you’ve done so far (such as on personal boundaries, how to use Twitter for research communication, accessibility). Write a tweet explaining what your research is about, or an aspect of it that you’re currently working on. Keep it all to one tweet!

You can find examples of people tweeting about their work on the hashtag #TweetYourThesis, which is an annual competition for PGRs run by the Doctoral College.

If you want to practice sending it, tweet it to the Doctoral College @ExeterDoctoral with the hashtag #TweetYourTopic in the tweet.

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