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Guidelines for Discussion Board Writing

"The art of writing on the discussion board is to keep the conversation going."

I have said that the visible heart of our community is the discussion board.  But discussion board writing may be new to you.  What makes good discussion board writing?  How should you operate in that space?

Here are some general guidelines -- guidelines that will be modified in some instances from assignment to assignment and course to course but can serve as a point of reference for most of your work on the discussion board.

Play the Game

Think of discussion board activity as a game of non-competitive racquetball or tennis in which the goal is not to win but to exercise both yourself and others by keeping the ball (ideas) in play as long as possible.

Chase

Good discussions offer the excitement of "the chase." Discussion boards are often places where you pick up the scent of an idea and chase it in an aggressive manner. Sometimes headlong, sometimes recklessly, but always energetically. And it doesn't matter if you come to conclusion or closure. You don't have to "capture" the idea. That can come later -- in a formal essay, for instance.

Plan Ahead

Think before you write. Weigh options and alternatives. Practice a variety of "shots" over time. Be conscious of the best strategy to use when you are "serving" or "returning a serve" by others in order to keep the conversation going.

"Talk"

But discussion boards are not usually the place for formal writing. You usually need not worry about polishing your posts. Do not overly concern yourself with editing. Your purpose is to be interesting, stimulating, informative, and clear -- not grammatically perfect. Be informal and fresh. Write as you would talk.

Assume the Best

Assume that everybody has done his or her homework. Don't "waste" your time and others' in posts recording or summarizing material everybody knows. As Michael Douglas/Gordon Gekko says in Oliver Stone's Wall Street: "Tell me something that I don't know." "Summarize," as you will see, is not one of the "five eyes" to practice on the discussion board.

Read Everything

The normal expectation is that you will read everything posted by your class or assigned group. Everybody deserves a good audience, and I will be saying things on the board -- perhaps in response to others -- that I will expect you to have "heard."

Add, Don't Repeat

Normally read what others in your class or assigned group have said before you post. Do not write in isolation. Be aware of what's already been said and try to add a new dimension, or a different slant, or another perspective.

Respond to Everybody

When you are asked to respond to posts by others, make sure that everybody gets a response. If, for instance, you see that there are posts to which no one has responded yet, respond to one of them first, knowing that you can always respond to others as well if those topics engage you. But let's include everybody in the "conversation." Make sure everybody gets feedback.

Engage

One sign of a successful post is the number and quality of responses it receives. Write with the purpose of engaging others with your ideas. Normally, posts should not be individual monologues, manifestoes, or pronouncements. As you will see me say, write socially. Write in a way to invite others to join with you. "Make" others want/have to respond.

Weave

Not only read what others have written before you post, but try to weave the work of others into your own. Mention the names and ideas of others. Bounce off others. Quote others. Show that you are part of a community.

Volley

Keep the conversation going. And going. And going. Avoid one post - one response syndrome; cultivate the practice of verbal volleys (remember that non-competitive racquetball or tennis is our model) . When someone responds to a post of yours, acknowledge the response by adding another post. True dialogue will extend through a number of posts.

Measure Your Words

The discussion board is normally a middle space between a chat and a formal essay. In a chat, a fast-paced series of short verbal spurts is the norm. In a formal essay you slowly develop big ideas at length. The discussion board falls in-between, and my guideline is that posts normally should function like a solid paragraph, developing an idea in the 150-250 word range. Posts longer than two developed paragraphs will usually overload responders.

Mind Your Manners

There is, of course, an etiquette proper to the discussion board, just as there is in any community dialogue. That etiquette includes listening to (reading) everybody, providing thoughtful response, maintaining decorum, criticizing politely, addressing replies to people by name, signing your posts, and so forth. Addressing and signing your posts, especially, facilitates a feeling of community in virtual space.

Address and Sign

Let me repeat what I just said. The virtual world of the discussion board can be cold. Addressing and signing your posts will help humanize it, will help make this space feel like a community. Tell others how to call you (full first name, nickname, Mr., etc.) by signing your posts. Address your responses to others using the name they signed. Talking directly "to" somebody will also help the quality of the conversation.

Chunk

The discussion board is "open" twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Take advantage of that. Visit the board frequently -- every day, several times a day, every time you work on your computer, as a break from working on other things etc, etc. Don't wait till there is a mound of posts before you do your reading and writing. That will discourage you from reading. That stifles fresh, focused responses. That inhibits volleying activity. Instead, work on the discussion board in small time chunks to insure that you are giving proper attention to both your work and the work of others.