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Writing A Substantive Discussion Post for An Online Class Forum

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By Dr. Anthony Patete
Faculty Member, School of Business, American Public University

Note: This post was originally published on LinkedIn.

In an online classroom, the purpose of the discussion forum is to simulate a real-world classroom discussion. It is an opportunity to further explore the concepts you’re studying in the class, rather than being a substitute for a writing assignment.

Although formal writing is more relaxed in the online discussion forum, critical thinking and application of the concepts you learn is not casual. Your full participation and the comments from your instructor and other students bring the classroom material to life.

Use Critical Writing to Create Substantive Forum Posts

A substantive post about the topic under discussion should provide a reason for your beliefs. In other words, why do you feel the way you feel? Your opinion is acceptable, but you must have a solid rationale for it.

You will need to write critically and persuasively. In an online discussion, you will apply the theory of what you have learned, relate that information to facts and state a conclusion you’ve reached. Your post may also resolve a problem.

The faculty member teaching the class will consider your critical writing skills in judging your responses in online forums. For example, your answer in a forum should rationalize a position or explain a theory. Your answer should be supported by data from professional sources, peer-reviewed journals and reputable professional websites, including government sites.

Remember The Acronym “IDEA” When You Write A Forum Post

As you are writing a substantive post for your forum, remember the acronym “IDEA.” IDEA consists of four concepts:

  • Identify, Interpret or Infer the principle being learned.
  • Define and Dissect the principle being studied.
  • Explore and Explain the principle being studied and how you think it applies to the discussion forum.
  • Analyze the concept being discussed, Apply it to a fact pattern and Advocate a position or recommendation.

Identifying, Interpreting or Inferring Principles for A Forum Post

Many times, the discussion prompt in the online forum identifies the topic to be discussed and then asks you to explore this concept. A topic is the person, place, event or idea mentioned or referenced in a section of your class material. For discussions, it is often the principle you and your fellow students are learning.

Start your forum post with a topic sentence that summarizes the main idea of a paragraph or even your entire post. The topic sentence, often the first sentence in your forum post, should convey your main idea, central thought, meaning or point. You will then develop that idea in more specific detail with the use of supporting sentences.

Defining and Dissecting Principles for Your Forum Post

In your answer to a forum post, you can define and dissect the principle being studied. One possible approach is to use a definition of that principle to explain its core concept. Another approach is to dissect the varying elements that make up the principle.

Exploring and Explaining Principles in Your Forum Post

As you are creating your forum post, explore and explain the principle under study. Avoid general statements and make specific, well-researched statements.

If your instructor uses a vague discussion prompt, he or she will often use that type of prompt intentionally to permit you and other students to explore concepts related to the class. In this situation, you may take certain liberties. Where appropriate, infer facts and conclusions to establish that you know the similarities and differences of related concepts.

Analyzing, Applying and Advocating In A Forum Post

In your forum post, create your answer to the discussion prompt by analyzing the concept being discussed, applying it to a pattern of facts and advocating a position or recommendation. Not only does this practice show your instructor that you are using a higher level of thinking, but it also demonstrates that you’re applying your critical thinking and problem-solving abilities.

By advocating a position, you are free to infer certain facts and state a conclusion. Your opinion is accepted and welcomed in a forum, but you must substantiate that opinion with supporting information. Be sure to double-check your spelling and grammar in your answer, too.

A simple “I agree” or “I disagree” posting does not contribute to anyone’s learning in the online classroom; I often see this type of response in forum reply posts. Provide examples and explanations to support your position.

Likewise, complimenting fellow students on a good main post is equivalent to an “I agree” post. If you wish to pay a compliment to another student for a job well done, you’re free to do so.

However, be prepared to explain how you feel another student’s post enhances the concept being discussed. Otherwise, you are not using the “IDEA” concept. Remember, the online forum is not a blog, but an academic exercise.

One way to respond to fellow students’ posts is to compare and contrast statements from other students. Explore similarities and differences and how they enhance the online discussion. Take a position and advocate for your point of view, but do so respectfully.

By referring to a third-party resource, such as a textbook or a library reference, you support your position and lend credibility to your advocated position. Also, credible supporting resources make it difficult for other students or your instructor to disagree with you. By referring to the textbook, you send a strong signal to your instructor that you read the material.

Remember to Obey Netiquette in the Online Forum

During your online discussion in the forum, do not take comments personally. Commonly, we interpret written messages based on our experiences. We infer what we think is being said, which may differ from what the original author intended to say.

Because you have no cues other than the written word, you might make assumptions that were not intended by another student. When you respond to forum posts, do not use all capital letters, which is interpreted by other readers as yelling.

In addition, make your points by using exclamation points or question marks. If you perceive what you say might be taken the wrong way, soften it with an emoji.

Remember, the discussion board is just that…a discussion. It is not intended to be a debate, an argument or an “I got you”! What it is intended to be is an exchange of ideas used to promote critical thought and an exploration of the concepts being learned. Therefore, please feel free to bring your life experiences to the classroom. For example, I learn from each and every post that is made to the discussion board in every class I teach.

Acceptable and Unacceptable Forum Posts

Below is an example of a typical online forum discussion prompt, as well as some acceptable and unacceptable forum posts.

Discussion Prompt

Explain the value of market segmentation, and give an example in which you are the target market (see especially Chapter 12). Respond to at least two of your classmates’ postings.

Acceptable Posts

Market segmentation is a theory where the differing characteristics of the customer are identified to align with the market processes of the producer. Characteristics such as age, demographics, education and income can be identified (Pope, 2012). Pope (2012) explains, market segmentation as “… consisting of identifying specific groups based on their needs, attitudes, and interests” (p. 85). (This post is a definition of the principle being studied and the writer references specific sources.)

Identifying a specific target market is vital to marketing and to sales. Defining the customer, marketing companies can focus on a specific group of people and adjust their marketing campaigns. If a marketing company were to create an ad that targeted everyone, it would be too general and would probably end up reaching the attention of (targeting) nobody. (In this post, the writer uses exploration and analysis.)

What is the target market for Mattel when it advertises for its “Barbie” doll? Obviously, the appeal is to younger girls age 6-12, however, is this the customer? The other target market is the parents and grandparents. These are the customers who will purchase “Barbie”. Many times “Barbie” is purchased as a gift for the ultimate customer, the young girl, but the product must appeal to the parents and grandparents using price and promotion. (The writer of this post is using specific examples to describe the target markets.)

Unacceptable Posts

My target market is everybody? (The writer made this post too general. Also, this answer does not explore or analyze the concept of target marketing.)

Companys shoud say what there target market is so they can focus on that group and make there marketing campaigns fit that group. Companys should appeal to everyone, that way they can sell the most and make the most profit. (This post contains several misspellings and does not define the concept under discussion.)

The text says — “this process, known as market segmentation, consists of identifying specific groups based on their needs, attitudes, and interests” (The writer does not use a proper citation and does not analyze the concept being discussed.)

This is a big country. There are so many people out there who want to buy and own a Barbie. My sister still has hers and she is 20 now. She says it is one of her prized possessions. She intends to buy her daughter one if she were to ever have children. That is a strong market segment that should be the focus of the maker of Barbie. Besides, you know you cannot have a Barbie without a Ken, now you have sold to pproducts for the $ of 1. (The writer cites a personal opinion, rather than a credible source, and the post has misspellings.)

About the Author 

Anthony Patete is a faculty member at American Public University in the business department. He has been teaching law and business for more than twelve years online and on campus at various schools and has been an administrator in post-secondary education. “Dr. P”, as his students affectionately call him, provides his students with seasoned instruction and career guidance.

Susan Hoffman is a Managing Editor at APU Edge, whose articles have appeared in multiple publications. Susan is known for her expertise in blogging, social media, SEO, and content analytics, and she is also a book reviewer for Military History magazine. She has a B.A. cum laude in English from James Madison University and an undergraduate certificate in electronic commerce from American Public University.

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