Guidelines for Discussion Board Writing

"The art of writing on the discussion board is to keep the conversation going."
I have said that the heart of our virtual 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.  The suggestions here 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.

Free Write

Discussion boards are not usually the place for formal writing.  You need not worry about polishing your posts.  Do not concern yourself with grammar and mechanics.  Your purpose is to be interesting, stimulating, informative, and clear.  Do not revise.  Be spontaneous, informal, and fresh.  Freewrite.  Brainstorm.  "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.  Think of the Michael Douglas/Gordon Gekko line in Oliver Stone's Wall Street: "Tell me something that I don't know."


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 reckless, 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.

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 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.


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


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.


My mantra is "The art of writing on the discussion board is to keep the conversation going."  Avoid one post - one response syndrome; cultivate the practice of verbal volleys.  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.

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.


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.