How to Write a Discussion Post for Class

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Communication, discussion, and exchanges of ideas are at the center of education. These opportunities allow you to share thoughts and refine your opinions and arguments. At the end of a lively discussion, everyone involved has strengthened ideas.

In an online learning environment, this communication takes place primarily on the discussion boards of each class. These discussions are not “busy work” but are instead the virtual version of a classroom debate. A discussion board assignment is designed to give you room to explore the week’s content. In a discussion post, you are able to share your early thoughts, ask questions, and figure out how the content connects to your life and experiences.

While the discussions that happen in these threads mimic the discussions that happens in a face-to-face classroom, the big difference is the writing. A discussion board post is written, not spoken, and this difference brings with it some specific considerations.

First, a discussion post must be a complete unit of thought. Unlike talking with another person in real-time, where you can stop to clarify or add ideas, a discussion post has to make sense to readers the first time they read it. Next, a discussion post has to be readable which means the sentences should flow well and be punctuated correctly. Last, a discussion post benefits from being treated like any other form of academic writing. That’s right–this point means you should refer to research, include citations, and be organized in a meaningful way. It is important for you to keep all of these traits of a discussion post in mind when completing the assignment.

Use Directions to Organize Thoughts

In a face-to-face conversation, it’s easy to jump from topic to topic and back again. In writing, however, presenting ideas in a jumbled way creates confusion for the reader. A discussion post should be organized like any other piece of writing, which means there should be paragraphs that focus on one idea at a time, and that main idea should be stated in the topic sentence. A strategy to help organize a discussion post is to look at the directions. If there are bulleted points listing things to include, try to write one paragraph about each of those. Finish explaining and fully developing one point before moving to the next one in a new paragraph. If the directions do not have bullet points, see if you can turn the prompt into a list of things that must be included. Then, write one paragraph for each item in your list. This one-idea-at-a-time strategy will help maintain organization in your post.

Use an Authentic, Academic Voice

A discussion post is a discussion, so your writing should sound natural and conversational. However, you want to avoid sounding overly casual as discussion posts are a form of academic writing. To get the right balance of tone, avoid clichés, slang, and sentence fragments. Try to read your work aloud as you type or shortly after you type. If the writing sounds like a professional version of you–that’s a great start. Remember that like any type of academic writing, you want to proofread and check for grammar, punctuation, and spelling errors before submitting your post. Use your free account to Grammarly for these checks.

Use Research

You will often see a specific requirement to use research in your discussion posts. The research may include only course materials (for example an article that is assigned reading that week), or the research may come from external sources (like the library databases). When using research in discussion posts, it should still be integrated and cited. Again, a post is still a form of academic writing.

The next time you sit down to start working on your weekly discussion post, know that the ideas you are forming are still a work in progress. As your classmates and instructor comment on your post, use those ideas to re-think and strengthen your own. These discussion threads allow for people from all over to communicate and discuss ideas–regardless of time zones or location–so the diversity and variety of expertise is guaranteed to be rich and exciting. Take advantage of the strengths of online discussions, and use our tips to craft your best post.

For even more tips, and to see a sample, check out the Writing Center’s video tutorial Writing a Good Discussion Board Post.



Written by Melissa Sharpe,  Learning Services Writing Center.

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