How to Write a Strong Discussion Post

In an online class, it is extremely important to stand out and attract the attention of your classmates and professor via the discussion forum. But how do you do this?


The following six tips can help you generate an effective post, guaranteed to engage your audience and elicit thoughtful responses from your instructor and classmates.


1. Do your homework. 

Complete the assigned readings for the module. As you’re reading, make connections between the text and your own life. Immerse yourself in the readings so when you’re ready to begin writing, you’ll be fully prepared to present an authentic, meaningful response. Also, always be sure to access your instructor's feedback on previous assignments to make sure you follow all expectations.


2. Read prompts carefully.

·         Purpose: What question or required reading are you being asked to respond to?

·         Particulars: What is the word limit? When is the due date and time? What sources are you expected to draw on?

·         Response type: Are you being asked to reflect on personal experience, determine a solution to a problem, compare two ideas, or make an argument?

·         Formatting: What formatting has your instructor requested? If no specific formatting is indicated, follow general APA guidelines.

·         Expectations: How will your discussion post be assessed? Consult your course materials or instructor.


3. Wake up your classmates with a strong argument or perspective. 

Develop a strong argument and support your statements with evidence from the course materials. In other words: research, research, research and cite, cite, cite. Be concise and articulate your ideas thoroughly. Explore all parts of the discussion question and get other students to think beyond traditional measures.


4. Be relevant. 

Include personal or professional experience (when it’s applicable), and support your ideas with textual evidence. Offer real-world application of these ideas to bring added value to the conversation and resonate with other students. Remember to always relate direct references to concepts you’re learning about and establish those connections with evidence from academic sources. 


5. Bring something unique to the post.

Do something extra that requires others to think and respond to the ideas you’re sharing. Use topic sentences to bring all points together and dig deep to find connections beyond the surface. Be sure that you have proposed a unique perspective that can be challenged by your classmates.


6. Prepare your response in a text editor before you post. 

In doing so, you’ll have a better chance to ensure the post is cohesive, coherent, and complete. Make sure to check all spelling and grammar. Just because it’s a discussion post doesn’t mean it should be messy.


7. Leave participants wanting more. 

Post your response, engage with your classmates, and continue to ask follow-up questions. Be an integral part of the conversation and add value to what is being discussed. Some of the best online discussions continue in the minds of others long after you post to the discussion forum. So the next time you post – ask yourself: What can I write that will add value to the conversation?



Seven Email Mistakes to Avoid

While emailing has become a somewhat informal mode of communication, an innocent typo or grammatical error can hurt your reputation and the overall argument you are trying to make.

As an online student, you want to make sure you’re using email as an effective way to communicate with your instructors, peers, and academic advisor. Listed below are some common grammatical email errors, according to Kristin Tyndall, senior editor of EAB. I have also added in a few tips of my own, based on my experiences with student emails, in particular, over the last 15 years!

Here are seven things you should check for before hitting send:

Mistake #1: Possessive pronoun confusion

Do not rely on your email server or Microsoft Word to catch every typo. With one letter out of place, it may still be a word, but not the one you meant to use. For example, there vs. they’re, your vs. you’re, its vs. it’s can easily be misused.

Pro Tip: In order to avoid misspellings, read your email backwards, from the last sentence to the first. If it’s an important email, ask a friend or colleague to review it. If possible, step away from the email for an hour or so, and return to it with fresh eyes.

Mistake #2: Misspelled names

When you’re emailing your professor, the last thing you want to do is spell their name wrong. This may be a small detail, but it makes a major impact to the reader.

Pro Tip: The best way to avoid this error is to copy and paste their name from another source, such as their email signature, work profile, or course syllabus.

Mistake #3: Capitalization and punctuation errors

More and more, we use the same informal spelling and grammar in our emails that we use in our texts to friends, family, or colleagues. Perhaps this is due to the explosion of texting.

Pro Tip: If you’re composing the email on your phone, be especially attuned to this mistake and proofread before sending.

READ MORE: Eight Ways to Practice Proper Email Etiquette

Mistake #4: Lacking focus

While this is technically not a grammatical error, it is a common one nonetheless and falls in line with mistakes two and three above. Consider your reader in this situation: Whether you are emailing your supervisor, your instructor, or your colleague, that person wants to know exactly why you are reaching out—and within the first sentence if possible.

Pro Tip: Be direct, specific, and if possible, brief in your question, favor, or presentation idea. Doing so will often afford you a direct response in return.

Mistake #5: Informal language when not appropriate

Again, consider your audience. Is it appropriate to begin an email to your supervisor or instructor with “Hey”? To write in fragments? No!

Pro Tip: The same rules that you apply to your written assignments should also be applied to your emails, including the use of complete sentences and, where necessary, commas, colons, and semicolons.

Mistake #6: Vague words —specifically, “nice,” “good,” “awesome,” and “greatly”

While it’s fine to use these words in your email copy, before hitting send ask yourself if there’s a better way to express your message. Vague words can cause confusion or lose your reader’s attention.

Pro Tip: Instead of reaching for one of these bland descriptors, reflect on what you are trying to say. In other words, be more specific—why was it nice? What was awesome about it?

Mistake #7: Repetition

Using the same word several times within the span of two or three sentences will begin to feel tedious to your readers. Try to mix it up, but be careful not to go so far in the opposite direction that you begin unleashing synonym after synonym.

Pro Tip: Find middle ground and balance your sentences with a variety of appropriate word choices.

Writing any type of communication is a process, and one that requires consistent work and attention. Keep at it, and do not hesitate to reach out to me at any time for assistance! For even more tips and strategies, please visit my Student Writing Support website.

To learn more about the Johnson & Wales University College of Online Education and how one of our degree programs can help further your career, complete the “Request Info” form on this page or call 855-JWU-1881 or email

Most Common Pronoun Reference Errors

1.      Too many antecedents

A pronoun should have only one antecedent (noun) that is clear and unmistakable, as mentioned earlier.

Example: “The supervisors told the workers that they would receive a bonus.”

Revised (and rephrased) example: “The supervisors complimented the workers on receiving a bonus.”

2.      Hidden antecedents

Faulty pronoun reference errors also occur when the pronoun’s antecedent functions as an adjective rather than as a noun. In such cases, the true antecedent is “hidden” from the reader because it has been subordinated to another noun.

Example: “The candy dish was empty, but we were tired of eating it anyway.”

Clearly, people do not eat dishes. What this writer means to say is, “We were tired of eating candy.” However, “candy” cannot be the antecedent for “it” because “candy,” situated in front of the noun “dish,” is acting as an adjective. Only nouns can be antecedents. To revise, substitute a noun for the pronoun “it:” “The candy dish was empty, but we were tired of eating candy anyway.”

3.      No antecedent at all

Another kind of faulty/vague pronoun reference error occurs when a writer uses a pronoun without supplying the antecedent.

Example: “The witness called the television station, but they didn’t answer.”

In this example, the pronoun “they” has no antecedent to which it can refer. To repair this error, the writer could change the pronoun “they” to a noun: “The witness called the television station, but not a single reporter answered the phone.”

4.      Pronoun used to stand for a group of words

Additionally, watch out for “this” and “which” pronouns

Example: “I did not attend the rally, which was very unpatriotic of me.”

The word “which” has no single, clear antecedent. Instead, it refers to the entire clause – “I did not attend the rally.” Remember that a pronoun must always refer to a single, clear antecedent. We can repair the above error in two ways:

Replace the pronoun with a noun: “I did not attend the rally. My actions were very unpatriotic.”

Rephrase to eliminate the pronoun: “By not attending the rally, I was unpatriotic” (Townson).

5.      Pronoun number

Pronouns must agree in number with their antecedents; this rule matches that of subject-verb agreement. Plural antecedents require plural pronouns, and singular antecedents require singular pronouns.

Example: “Each person should follow their dreams.” Here, “their” is a plural pronoun and “person” is a singular noun.

Revised: “Each person should follow his or her dream.” OR “All people should follow their dreams.”

Quick-ish Writing Tips: Clarifying Vague Pronoun References

Today I bring you another common grammatical dilemma – how to revise for vague pronoun reference.

What is vague pronoun reference?

The issue I see most often is the use of a pronoun which does not refer to one specific noun. To review, a pronoun is a word used to take the place of a noun, and should refer to one unmistakable noun preceding it. This noun is called the pronoun’s antecedent. Unfortunately, it is very easy to create a sentence that uses a pronoun without a clear antecedent. Take a look at this example: “After putting the disk in the cabinet, Mabel sold it.” Did Mabel sell the disk or the cabinet? The pronoun reference is faulty here because the pronoun it has two antecedents.

So how do we revise for vague pronoun reference?

Any pronoun whose reference is unclear should be replaced by the noun that you intended it to stand for. Otherwise, you risk confusing your reader and obscuring the intended meaning of your arguments.

To begin with, any pronoun that switches from the person (first, second, third) already established in a statement or paragraph should be replaced by a pronoun that maintains consistent person.

For example: “The candy dish was empty, but we were tired of looking through one’s cabinet for more” should be revised to, “The candy dish was empty, but we were tired of looking through our cabinets for more.”

Simple repetition is one of the most effective ways to keep your reader’s mind on a train of thought. The haste of writing a first draft may cause you to start on one train of thought but finish on another. The result will clearly not express what you meant. Confusing sentences often result from leaving out essential words, awkwardly repeating words, and neglecting to complete a structure. Be sure to read through your work with a critical eye, trying to look at it as a reader might (Cameron).