Doing Discussion Questions Right
Learning to address discussion questions properly is one of the most challenging tasks for online students. Students
sometimes approach the forums as if the objective is to “get a right answer.” However, discussion questions may not
have a single right answer. In other words, discussion questions are less about getting a “right answer” and more about
engaging in a “right process” of research, application, and conversation.
Let’s start with a brief summary of what initial and follow-up responses should accomplish in discussion forums:
Your initial response to a discussion should take the information you gathered from your readings in the
textbooks, research articles, independent scholarly papers, etc., and then present your thoughts as to how best
to address the given issue, using your research as evidence for your views.
Your reading and follow-up response to a fellow student’s discussion reply should not be a general acceptance
of his or her opinion, but rather something that challenges the student to defend his or her stated response, or
something that presents an alternate idea or additional analysis. Again, research should be used as evidence in
your follow-up responses.
To dig a little deeper into the mechanics of doing a discussion questions right, consider:
When you read the specific information and questions in a forum, you will note that discussion questions often contain
multiple parts or starter questions. Read the instructions, questions, and topics carefully. In many cases, you do not
need to answer each specific part or starter question in your initial post. Rather, identify one or two aspects of the
discussion topic and post a substantive reply in 500 (1 page) to 1000 (2 pages) words that starts a meaningful
conversation. A good target for initial posts is 750 words at the graduate level. However, length is not necessarily an
indicator of quality. Posts must be both substantive and clear regardless of length. Make sure to provide one or two
clear points or conclusions in your initial post so that others can respond. Consider dialogue forums as analogous to a
scholarly conversation that might occur in a face-to-face classroom. Support your answers with examples and research.
Cite your research using the correct APA format.
Substantive dialogues are not repetitive. Thus, if someone else has posted a response regarding a particular aspect of
the topic in his or her initial post, you need to identify some other element of the question for your initial post. In other
words, address a different starter question or provide a different view or new ideas. The key point is that you do not just
repeat what others have already said.
Start reviewing and responding to the postings of your classmates as early in the week as possible. By the end of the
week, respond to the specified number of classmates and your instructor (see rubric). Also keep in mind the need to
participate in the course on several days per week (see the rubric). Participating on the minimum number of days does
not ensure full participation points. Participate in the discussion by asking a question, providing a statement of
clarification, providing a point of view with a rationale, challenging an aspect of the discussion, or indicating a
relationship between one or more lines of reasoning in the discussion. Follow-up posts should also be substantive and
include support from examples and correctly cited research when possible. Follow-up posts usually should not exceed
300 words. Often, they will be approximately 100 to 200 words in length. Remember though, substance is more
important than word count. Simply agreeing or disagreeing is not considered substantive. One or two sentences are not
usually considered substantive. The dialogues should be useful conversations that analyze topics both broadly and
deeply, providing evidence (research) that supports your response.
Done “right,” discussion forums can provide one of the most important learning experiences in your educational