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Etiquette for Online Course Discussion Board Posts

July 09, 2014 by Kelly Paul |
Writing for your course's discussion board is not like posting on Facebook, Twitter, or the comments section of news websites.

Posting on the course discussion board isn't quite like writing a paper either, but it's close. It counts toward your grade and furthermore creates your most visible portrait in the class. The following tips will help you demonstrate good discussion board etiquette with both your professor and your classmates.

Follow the instructor's guidelines for posting.

Learning platforms like Blackboard and Moodle differ in how they post comments and run threads. Be sure to read the instructor's guidelines before you start so you don't get lost or confuse your classmates. You may be required to post a certain number of times, or respond to a certain number of posts. Also, make sure you're posting to the question you intend.

Whom and how should I ask this?

The course discussion board is not the place for every question. Use email to contact a classmate if you're working on a project together or the professor if you have a question on your coursework or grade. And sometimes the right person to ask is your advisor, again by personal email. Save the discussion board for topics and questions relevant to the class as a whole

Be realistic about when to expect an answer.

The professor and your classmates also work and have family obligations, which may keep them from looking at the discussion board frequently. The other person may not be online when you are or even close to when you are. Time is tight. Be patient if you don't get an answer to your post right away. 24-48 hours is realistic. If your question or comment goes unanswered longer than that, ask politely if they've seen your post.

Is the course discussion board the right place for this comment?

No matter what you're studying, certain topics invariably arouse strong feelings. People get upset over everything from income inequality to gender differences to punctuation marks. (Editors have been known to come to blows over what is called the Oxford comma - the one right before the last item in a series.)

If a post elicits a passionate response from you, take a few minutes to slow down and decide whether posting it will be helpful and illuminate the topic. Remember: discussion board posts are at best semi-private. Anything you put on the Internet can come back to bite you later. This is when it's helpful to follow the professor's rules for discussion.

Be polite and assume good intentions.

The discussion board is a learning forum. The topic may be difficult or controversial. People may disagree.  But it's best to assume that no one is trying to be argumentative or upsetting, but are honestly expressing their ideas. Even if you disagree, answer seriously and politely. People learn from respectful dialogue more than from sarcasm, snark, or name calling.

Mind your tone.

This is not the place to be either the Sultan of Slang or the World's Greatest Authority. Professional but conversational and a little informal is likely to elicit the best response from both your professor and other students.

Read before responding.

Nothing is more annoying than when the writer misunderstands the entry they're responding to. Be sure you are responding accurately and on topic.

Identify your sources.

A discussion post isn't as formal as a paper, but you need to identify sources so the reader knows what you're talking about. If you refer to a work on the course's reading list, quote from it, or paraphrase the author's ideas, be sure to include the author's name, name of the work, and pages you're drawing from. Direct quotations must be put in quotation marks.

Ex: As Michael Lewis notes in Flashboys (pg. 23)...

Ex: In Burns and Jones' study (Jack and Jill Go to College: Gender Stereotypes in Academia, p.3)...

General references to a well-known work don't need the page citation:

Ex: As Jane Austen notes in Pride and Prejudice, "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife."

Check with your professor on the format he/she wants. For more information about citations and avoiding plagiarism, check out our blog post.

Mind your P's and Q's.

Spelling, punctuation, and grammar count. You want to look professional. Proofread your work before posting to make sure it doesn't contain errors. Mixing up "they're", "their," and "there" really can count against you if you're trying to look like a pro and show what you know.


They're the online equivalent of shouting. 


Following these tips will demonstrate good discussion board etiquette, likely increase the number of good responses that you get, and enhance your professor's opinion of your abilities. If you have suggestions for other helpful tips, let us know.


By: Coventry Kessler

Photo courtesy of Unsplash.



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