Twitter, the ever faster growing social network, is famous for its “What are you doing?” question.  You just type in what you’re currently doing, click update, and your message gets sent off to all your followers and friends.  There is one catch, though, and that is that you have to describe what you’re doing in less than 140 characters.

This can be extremely hard to do, especially if you have a lot of things to say, and a lot of people don’t even bother to sign up because of it.  Don’t give up on Twitter yet, however.  Though it may be hard to sum up your thoughts in 140 characters, there are ways that you slim them down without really removing any content.  I like to call it “making the most of your 140 characters”, and below I have listed a few of the ways you can do just that.

1. Shorten URLs

If you’re posting a URL in your tweet, then the best way you can cut down space is by using a URL shortening service.  Basically, you type your long URL into one of these services, and out pops a tiny URL that you can use in your tweets.  Here are a few of my favorite shorteners and why I like them:

  • u.nu
    • It is the absolute shortest URL possible.  No url can be shorter than three characters, and that is exactly what u.nu is.  If you’re looking to make your URLs as short as you can, then this is the service for you.
    • After you shorten a URL, it gives you the shortened link, HTML code for the link, and even BBCODE for the link so you can use it on a website of forum without typing code.
    • To see information about a URL shortened with u.nu, simply put a question mark, “?”, at the end of it.  This shows you where the URL redirects to, when it was shortened, and how many people have clicked on it.
  • tr.im
    • It has lots of extensions that let you access it from FireFox, your Mac dashboard, or any other browser.
    • It is very fast, which means you can shorten URLs with lightning speed.
    • After you shorten and post a URL to Twitter, you can see statistics on how many people clicked the link, where they are from, and more.
    • You can customize it so that it works just like you need it to.
  • is.gd
    • It also has lots of extensions like a FireFox plugin, bookmarklet, Dashboard widget, and Mac app.
    • You can preview a shortened URL (see where it redirects to without actually going there) by putting a hyphen, ‘-’, at the end of the is.gd URL.
  • bit.ly
    • Just like the two mentioned above, it gives you extensions like a FireFox plugin, bookmarklet, sidebar, and even a Gmail gadget.
    • You can see real-time analytics of how your links are doing, like how many people are clicking on them.
    • You can save your preferences and always use it the way you want.

Though those shorteners have extremely short domain names,

Note: If you’re looking for some good Twitter apps for your Mac, you should read another post here at TutWow named 7 Free Twitter Apps for Your Mac.

2. Remove multiple RT sources

In Twitter, when someone else tweets something cool and you want to tweet the same thing, you use something called a “Retweet”.  This is how it works: your friend Joe (username joe987) posts a link to an amazing portfolio, and you want to spread it around among your followers.  To do this, you copy his tweet, post it into a new tweet, and add “RT @joe987″ to the front of it.  This not only shows the cool tweet, but it also gives credit to the original tweeter.

Sometimes you see a retweet, or a tweet that already has a “RT @username” on it, but you want to share the tweet with your friends as well.  Most people just add another RT onto the front of the tweet (“RT @one RT @two tweet“), but this adds a bunch of extra characters that aren’t really necessary.  The important thing is that you give credit to the original tweeter, so to make the most of your tweet space, you should remove the first RT.  So if you had “RT @secondary RT @original tweet“, you would change it to just “RT @original tweet“.

3. Use one space at the end of sentences

As your grammar teacher used to tell you, “always use two spaces at the end of your sentences”.  This is great, if you’re writing articles or papers, but for Twitter, it just grows your tweets.  Though this may not save tons of space, it can help if you’re really pressed for characters.  For example, take a look at this tweet:

Hey tweeple!  How’s your day going?  I’m feeling great today, and I hope you are too.  I’m working on a new article for my blog.  How about you?

If you put that into Twitter, you’ll see that it’s four characters too long.  But if you remove the extra space between the sentences, you come out with an even 140 characters.  Not huge, but useful!

4. Use Contractions

Often, when tweeting, you talk about yourself, saying things like “I am eating spaghetti” or “I will go for a walk tomorrow”.  To save extra space, use contractions as often as possible.  So instead of the previous tweets, you would say “I’m eating spaghetti” or “I’ll go for a walk tomorrow”.

5. Substitute Letters for Words

Though I don’t recommend it since it looks rather unprofessional, you can replace words like “you” and “are” with their sound-alike letters “U” and “R”.  This saves lots of space, but as I said, you shouldn’t do it if you’re trying to sound professional.

One thing you can do that doesn’t look as unprofessional is use the “&” and “@” signs in place of “and” and “at”.  Since most people are used to reading these symbols every day, they won’t notice the difference as easily. (thanks Chris and Malcolm Coles for sharing this tip in the comments!)

A good website that does this for you automatically is Twonvert.  You just type in your original, long tweet, and Twonvert converts it to SMS shorthand on the fly.

6. Use multiple tweets

Ok, this might not be a way to make the most of your 140 characters, but the fact is, if you have something great on your mind and you can’t possibly let it out in 140 characters, then you’re going to need multiple tweets to convey your message clearly.  To do this, post the first half of your thought in the first tweet and the second half in the second.  True, this makes people read bottom up, but sometimes it’s necessary.

7. Remove unnecessary words

When we write, we often use words that aren’t really necessary or could be removed without taking away from our meaning.  As I said above, this can be good if you’re writing articles or a paper, but it doesn’t make sense for Twitter.  When tweeting, you should remove your flowery language and post just the basic meaning of what you’re trying to say.

For example, instead of writing “I am being filled with such an awesome sensation of joy and gratefulness that I can barely portray it with mere words”, you could just say “I’m happy”, or “I’m so happy I can’t describe it”.  See the difference in length?

Note: Thanks to Jaremy in the comments for this tip.

More?

There are many ways to shorten your tweets, as you can see.  Did I miss one of your favorite techniques?  Let me know in the comments below, and I’ll add it to the list.