Hashing it over


Pink button with # symbol and blank line, held in an open palm
Hashtag button (Photo by Eclecticlibrarian)

Anyone who has converted to Twitter, and uses it with regularity will know about the prevalent use of hashtags to ‘stream’ tweet content.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, have a quick read of this official Twitter page, or check out the wittier, unofficial Guardian version.

In short:

A hashtag, for the non-Twitterati, is a word or smashed-together phrase preceded by the hash symbol (#), originally devised as a way to keep track of the flow of subject matter in the Twittersphere. (Ben Zimmer, Visual Thesaurus)

I recently saw someone on Facebook cramming hashtags into their status update. I must admit to rolling my eyes and muttering acidly, “It’s not Twitter, doofus” (oh, yes, fear my acidity).

Yes, I know Facebook is trying to get in on the hashtag action, but – in the very average ways I use Fb – it is largely absent and still an anomaly. Those who frequent Yammer have often used hashtags, and I know of tragics who have brought the hashtagging habit to their emails.

For the most part, though, hashtags live on Twitter.

When I first started on Twitter, I thought hashtags were silly. Yeah, that’s me: broadminded and noble embracer of change.

What I failed to realise was that getting value out of hashtags, and getting to a stage where I’m using and following them deliberately, requires a commitment to the medium that I didn’t have as a newbie. At that stage, all I saw was a soup of symbols and run-together text.

Since that time, I have come to love hashtags. Love them with an unnatural, nerdy love.

It wasn’t only discovering the established and incredibly rich conversations that take place on #phdchat and #ecrchat (more on those below), but also the insider jollies one could have with ironic and ‘side-bar’ tags. Ben Zimmer’s article on “The art of the self-mocking hashtag” captures this knowing use of the hashtag, of which #firstworldproblems is arguably the most well-known.

Established hashtags can hook you into wealthy information streams about your field of interest. It can be as easy as putting the hash in front of your discipline (e.g. #archeology or #biotech), or the common tags for your sector (e.g. #highered, #loveHE, #academia).

The most useful hashtags I’ve found for links and discussions about research cultures and grants are:

  • #ecrchat – Early Career Researcher chat was started by Katie Wheat (@KL_Wheat) and Hazel Ferguson (@snarkyphd). On the #ecrchat website you can vote for topics as well as volunteer to host a livechat.
  • #phdchat – This is one of the longest-running tags for research development/culture issues, with a focus on the PhD experience. @thesiswhisperer explains it all better than I could.
  • #emcrforum (sometimes #emcr) – This tag, for early and mid-career researchers, reflects the EMCR forum that’s a part of the Australian Academy of Science.
  • #acwri – This tag is used mostly for the livechats run by @phd2published and @drjeremysegrott (see this post on PhD2Published for more info), and also gets usage for tweets focused on writing and publishing issues for researchers,
  • #altac / #postac / #leavingacademia – These offer different perspectives on postdoctoral options and academia in general.

Hashtags are a very useful way to conduct livechats on Twitter. Say you’re taking part in a livechat about promotion strategies for ECRs that’s part of the #ecrchat schedule. This means that you search using #ecrchat, and almost all tweets that come out with that hashtag in that designated hour will address the topic. The fast flow of tweets can be intimidating, but most established livechats have Storified versions for later, calmer consumption. Here’s one from #ecrchat back in February that was hosted by @snarkyphd: “Negotiating academic hierarchy“.
EDITED TO ADD (14 Aug 2020): Storify no longer exists and this latter link is now dead. Twitter now has Twitter Moments, and Wakelet is another way to archive tweetchats.  

Another great use for hashtags is when an event is being livetweeted (someone is tweeting the content or experience of being at the event). Since #twittergate (a tweet-storm around the ethics of livetweeting at academic conferences), many participants are thinking more carefully about whether they ask for permission, treat it as a public event, or something negotiated in between.

If you’re livetweeting events, get up to speed with the protocols and pros/cons (Ruth Burr’s recent piece, “How to livetweet like a pro“, is useful to read). Livetweeting can be a lot of fun, but –  if done properly – it’s also a lot of work!

As I mentioned earlier, the most fun one can have with hashtags is when there’s a playful, inside-joke element involved. For my closer network on Twitter, this means that tags such as #clm (‘career-limiting move’) and #tabit (‘there’s a blogpost in that’) have accrued organic meanings and get bandied about in serious and frivolous ways.

I’ve now moved from being averse to hashtags to being prone to over-using them. Becoming familiar with the ones that bring me good information has been a great experience. It’s worth spending the time working out how they work! #orisitjustanotherjustificationformyTwitteraddiction

I’ve probably overlooked many worthy, wonderful hashtags. Comment below with your additions + add discipline flag?


  1. This post explains hashtags really well – much better than I usually manage to! Thanks 🙂

    I went to an American Ed Research conference last month (AERA) and they promoted their event hashtag #AERA13 clearly – had it on signage, in the program etc. People’s twitter handles were also on their nametag, if provided. The ‘backchannel’ it helped to create was excellent! Even if I skipped a session, I could read tweets from most keynotes as they came up live by following the hashtag.


    • Thanks for that – I remember following the #AERA13 tweets, too! They were really interesting. I think part of the great thing about hashtagging is being able to dip into conferences that you might not otherwise get to know about or be able to attend.


  2. …also:
    English teacher communities have been successfully using #ozengchat (in Australia) and #engchat (global/US) for weekly chats.


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