Eight tips to master online discussion forums


04th Dec 2015


At University of Essex Online, we assess our students’ understanding of a topic through a combination of assignments and online forum discussion posts.

Many people have encountered essays and reports earlier in their education journey, or in the workplace, but online discussions are often a new experience. A face-to-face, personal discussion between friends and colleagues is something that we all do every day without even thinking about it. But an online academic discussion requires a very different set of skills, and doesn’t always come as naturally to everyone.

In this blog post we’ll give you some handy tips to help you make the most of your discussions.


1. Read the topic carefully

Your tutor will start each discussion off with a question or topic; make sure you read this carefully! Before you start posting in the discussion forum you should be researching your topic, and it would be a really frustrating experience if you were to waste your time researching the wrong one. And remember, if you don’t understand the question then get in touch with your tutor as soon as possible.


2. Maintain a professional tone

With the increase in popularity of online messaging and non-academic forums, it’s easy to lapse into casual or even aggressive language when posting online. We’re sure you don’t need us to tell you, but keep in mind that you’ll be marked on your discussion contributions so make sure that you’re respectful and constructive if you disagree with a fellow student.


3. Check your spelling and grammar

Following on from the previous point, make sure you run a quick spelling and grammar check over each post before you commit to publishing it. Errors will reflect badly on your grade and can also confuse other students. In the worst case, they can also make your argument unclear to the tutor assessing your work.


4. Respond to other students

Although it’s expected that you’ll have your own opinions and facts to bring to the discussion, you need to make sure that you respond to other students’ posts. Try to use your own research to expand on the other messages, and make sure you’re adding something to the discussion. Don’t worry, as the conversation develops you’ll get a chance to express yourself.


5. Keep the discussion moving

It’s sometimes easy to forget the reason why you’re talking about a particular topic and not actually discuss the issue. It goes without saying that you shouldn’t be argumentative, but you can sometimes afford to be a little provocative to stimulate some lively debate. By creating a counterargument and a little controversy, the conversation will flow much more easily.


6. Cite your sources

This is something this is standard practice in assignments, but it’s also something that you definitely shouldn’t forget when posting in an online discussion forum. It’s important to remember that you can’t simply state opinions as facts and that you always need to cite your sources when referencing details and figures to support your argument.


7. Keep it short

Sometimes, when you’ve done a lot of research into a topic and you’re really passionate about a subject it’s easy to post too frequently and too much and accidentally take over a discussion. But don’t forget that one of the key skills that your tutor wants you to develop is the ability to understand and then summarise a topic. Try to stick to 200-300 words for each post and don’t dominate the forum.


8. Respond in a timely manner

Although online students are often posting from a variety of time zones, you should try your best to make a conversation flow by checking the forums regularly. By logging in regularly and responding to other students’ posts quickly you’ll make it easier to follow the thread of a discussion while also giving yourself plenty of time to meet your required number of posts.


We hope that this blog has helped you with any confusion you might have over discussion forums.

Inspired to start studying online? Download a prospectus.