Title Page | Overview | Documents | Surveys | Exercises
Clips | Profiles | Results | Reflections | References
@2006 Ed Gallagher, Professor of English, Lehigh Lab Fellow. Lehigh University.
Copyright, Terms of Use and Privacy Policy applicable to this site.

The "Nine Legs" (Response Options): Some Ways to Keep a Discussion Going

"The purpose of responding is to add value to the conversation."

see some examples

Normal practice on the discussion board involves both initiating ("serving") and replying ("returning," "fielding a return," "volleying"). Each kind of post has its own purpose and nature. The "five eyes" document suggests different ways to begin a discussion. Let's think here about those situations in which you are asked to reply to posts by others.

In general, your goal in replying to others should be:

  • to keep the conversation going
  • to add value to the conversation

How can you achieve these goals?

  • by being aware of the kinds of posts that tend to be dead-end conversation-stoppers
  • by being aware of a hierarchy of value within the kinds of posts that stimulate conversation
  • by continuing to write socially

If you are conscious of the options in replying, conscious of what best helps the community learn, conscious of the skills you should be practicing for the future, then we will all get more out of the discussion board.

So, in order to better achieve the goals of reply posts:

  • avoid a pattern of always shotgunning spontaneous responses
  • think about the range of response options you have before you post
  • among those options, recognize what is your "typical" response
  • among those options, vary the kinds of replies you make
  • strive for a decent percentage of responses with higher value
  • make sure that your reply begins with a transition from the host post(s)
  • write socially -- invite further conversation

The Range of Response Options:

It isn't possible to label the legion of options you have when making a reply post on the discussion board, but the following list might suggest the range available to you as well as the higher value kinds of posts for which you should strive.

The list is divided into three levels, from lower to higher value.   Which is not to say that all or even most of your posts should be at the highest level.  They can't be.  Each level is "good."  In fact, all the different kinds of responses are necessary within a group to keep normal conversation on the discussion board going.  But thinking about the value of different kinds of posts should help you aim for a higher percentage of your posts at the higher levels.

Since the very existence of a reply post presupposes that you are in conversation, the best way to begin a reply post is with a transition that acknowledges the host(s) and signals how you are keeping the conversation going, how you are adding value.

Now, there's a fine line separating some items on the list -- between "enhancing" and "building," for instance.  And some posts will inevitably be a combination of response-types.  Not to worry.  The key thing is not assigning one category or label to each and every post but raising your consciousness about the nature of your responses and attempting to increase the number of higher-level ones.  The purpose of this list is to make you aware of strategies to "keep the conversation going."

Once you are aware of different response strategies and have practiced them enough to internalize them, once, that is, you have developed your "rhetorical muscle memory," you probably will not need to refer to this list while engaging in discussion.  But until then you may want to consult this list before each and every response.

--Click on titles below for a few examples of each response option--

Level 1: you can keep the conversation going in a reply post by:

1) agreeing:  You can add value to the discussion by agreeing with a previous point by simply repeating, rewording, or summarizing it, for the purpose of building consensus or indicating a job well done in a cheerleading or back-slapping mode -- but if that's all you do in your reply, you run the risk of dead-ending conversation, and if that's all you do in your typical response, you will not be an engaging discussant over time.

2) questioningYou can add value to the discussion by, after showing that you have engaged with a post in some depth, raising a pertinent, provocative question asking for elaboration, expansion, or refinement of the previous post -- but if you question in an automatic, perfunctory, mechanical, or shallow way, you run the risk of dead-ending conversation.  In other words, don't just begin with a question in knee-jerk manner, but show how the host post led you to arrive at a question.  Show why your question is a question.

Level 2: you can keep the conversation going in a reply post by:

3) enhancing:  You can add value to the discussion by providing additional evidence or support for the exact point made in a previous post with which you agree.

4) answeringYou can add value to the discussion by satisfactorily answering a question asked by another, by clearing up someone else's perplexity about a point that you or someone else made.

Level 3: you can keep the conversation going in a reply post by:

5) buildingYou can add value to the discussion by building a new but related point on the foundation of an existing post, by taking a previous point to a new and different level.

6) disagreeing:  You can add value to the discussion by providing specific evidence or support in opposition to a point raised in a previous post, thus opening up potential new avenues for thought.

7) weaving:  You can add value to the discussion by synthesizing two or more previous posts, recognizing that a new contribution, one not realized by the individual posters, emerges from the synthesis.

8) re-directing:  You can add value to the discussion by demonstrating that, after several interactions, the current thread has reached a dead-end and by making a transition from the current post -- literally taking the discussion in an entirely new direction.

9) re-thinking:  You can add value to the discussion by acknowledging how a post or posts have caused you to re-think a position you have articulated previously, to have a new insight, to be converted to a new way of thinking, or to be more strongly committed to a previous position -- that is, showing that you have listened to and learned from someone(s) else, perhaps the highest compliment in discussion.