We’ve all been there. Your professor asks a question to the class about last week’s required reading. You look down at your book, out the window, and at your shoes. You pretend to contemplate the answer.
The reality: you only “skimmed” the reading, and you don’t have a clue how to answer the question. You wait in agony for 15 seconds (that feel more like 15 minutes) before someone finally answers.
You’re off the hook…at least for now. You can hopefully wait it out until your prof asks a question that you actually know the answer to. You’ll get your participation points, and all will be golden.
It’s all golden, that is, if you’re in an actual classroom participating in a face-to-face discussion.
What do you do if you’re in an online class or if your prof assigns an online discussion? You can’t hide in the back of the room until you know an answer. If you want to earn any points, you need to type something.
But what should you write? How do you know what your professor will consider sheer genius and what she’ll consider sheer garbage?
Keep reading to learn how to write a discussion post that makes the grade.
How to Write a Discussion Post That Makes the Grade: 5 Tips For Success
It can be easy to blow off an online discussion and write anything at the last minute, but I certainly don’t advise it. The online discussion is an actual assignment, and in most classes, it’s a graded assignment.
It’s a space for you to debate issues, learn from your classmates, and show your professors that you actually did complete the reading.
Professors take discussions seriously, and you should too. So follow these tips to learn how to write a discussion post that makes the grade.
Tip #1: Understand your assignment
Keep in mind that every prof and every class will have slightly different discussion requirements. I can’t stress enough how important it is for you to check assignment guidelines before you post to the discussion board.
Here are a few quick points to look for when reviewing discussion guidelines:
- When is the assignment due?
- How many times should you post to the discussion?
- Can you post all in one day, or do you need to be active in the discussion on two or more days during the discussion period?
- How many words should your reply be?
Of course, your professor may have additional requirements beyond those that I’ve listed here, so remember—read the guidelines before you write.
Tip #2: Write a thoughtful post
As tempting as it is to simply read what others have written and write something similar, don’t do it. Instead, write something original. Besides, your profs know if you’re copying others. Your post is automatically time-stamped, so they know who posted first.
You might also find yourself in a situation in which you’re required to post your original reply to a prompt before you can even see what others have written—yet another reason you’ll need to take time to compose a thoughtful post.
Here are a few pointers for writing substantive posts:
- Review the assigned materials carefully before you post your response. This means taking a few notes and maybe even outlining your ideas before you post.
- Consider what you’re being asked to write. Should you compare and contrast ideas, explain concepts, identify terms, argue a point of view, or answer in some other way?
- Make an original statement. In other words, don’t simply restate ideas from the readings. Instead, draw conclusions from the course information.
How, exactly, do you make an original statement and draw conclusions? What information should you include? See Tip #3 for more information.
Tip #3: Include evidence to support what you write
Drawing conclusions and writing thoughtful posts isn’t possible without including evidence to support your statements. You need evidence to help prove your point and to demonstrate that you fully understand the course materials.
Here are four tips for including evidence in your discussion posts:
- Look for key quotes from readings that help illustrate your point.
- Look for examples used in the readings that might help demonstrate your line of thinking.
- Consider how you might make connections between course readings and your own life.
- If relevant, do a bit of additional research and cite additional sources to help develop your discussion post.
Remember, if you’re using evidence from your course readings or from additional sources, it’s always a smart strategy to cite evidence through proper citation, such as MLA 8 or APA.
Tip #4: Choose your words carefully
In both online discussions and in-class discussions, you’ll share ideas, learn from others, and demonstrate your own understanding of the course content.
But even though discussion posts are the online classroom’s equivalent to an in-class discussion, you can’t treat both the same.
For instance, in an in-class discussion, you might say something like this:
That short story, ‘The Lottery,’ we read last week is kinda like The Hunger Games because they both have, like, the same storyline about how people are killed. They kill them because that’s just the way they do things in that place.
Sure that sounds like something you’d say in class, but when you see it in print, you can tell it’s not exactly appropriate for a written assignment (or a written discussion).
Here are a few suggestions for choosing appropriate wording:
- Even though a discussion isn’t a formal essay, it’s still important to be somewhat academic. While you’ll likely be able to use first person and second person, you shouldn’t write like you speak. (Being academic also means that you should use proper sentence structures, spelling, and punctuation, and vary your sentence structures.)
- Avoid slang, jargon, text slang (this includes emojis), and profanity.
- Write concisely, use concrete language wherever possible, and don’t use big words just to sound smart.
- Include vocabulary from your reading. For instance, if your English class is studying narration and point of view and you’re asked to write about the narrator in a specific story, break out terms like omniscient narrator, limited omniscient narrator, unreliable narrator, or participant narrator. (Remember: demonstrate that you know your stuff!)
Tip #5: Be polite and respectful
This is a pretty basic tip, but sometimes it can be easy to forget the old saying that, if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. This doesn’t mean that you can’t disagree with someone. It means that you should disagree respectfully.
Here are three points to keep in mind:
- Real people are participating in the discussion, so be respectful of their opinions and ideas.
- Don’t hide behind a screen. If you wouldn’t make the same comment to someone’s face, it’s not appropriate to write it in an online discussion.
- Even if you disagree or feel strongly about what someone has written, don’t go off on an angry rant. It’s okay to be passionate about a subject, but argue with reason and logic, not emotion.
End of Discussion
With the tips I’ve suggested in this post, you can confidently say you know how to write a discussion post that makes the grade. That means you can participate in just about any online discussion.
Here’s one final piece of wisdom: sometimes professors require you to participate in online discussions and then ask you to write a larger assignment (or even an essay) based on the ideas you posted.
That’s even more incentive to make sure you write a thoughtful and engaging post, right?
Interested in reading a more formal discussion about online discussions? Read this example essay from our essay database.
Not sure if your discussion ideas are on the right track? Need assistance developing your ideas and revising your writing? Get help from the experts at Kibin.