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Walden University Writing Center

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Thursday Thoughts: A Revamped Writing Resource You've Maybe Never Used

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Readers of this blog know about lots of the Walden U Writing Center resources like our live webinars, our PodCast, and our R.E.M.-inspired blog posts. But we recently upgraded one of our lesser-known but extremely helpful writing resource that you’ve maybe never used: Writing Modules. Our two most popular series of modules, Plagiarism Prevention and APA References & Citation, have recently been completely revamped and updated. 

From Prompt to Post: A Step-by-Step Guide to Writing Effective Discussion Posts


Have you ever felt unsure about how to write a discussion post?  Today on the blog, we offer a 7-step strategy to help you create a discussion post with clear purpose, effective organization, strong evidence, and logical reasoning. To demonstrate how this can be done, let’s take a look at a hypothetical discussion post prompt and use it to go through each of the seven steps. This prompt will serve as the basis for all of the examples below:

For your Week 4 discussion post, please reflect on and explain your reasons for attending Walden and the ways that you see your pursuit of your degree furthering your professional goals. Reflect on why you choose to attend Walden University and what it is about the University, your program, Walden’s mission, or the environment that led you to choose to pursue your degree here. In addition, please explain what you hope to achieve personally through your learning at Walden and how you see your degree furthering your professional goals. Provide specific examples from your experiences and cite all relevant information in APA format.

In the sections below, you’ll find tips for how to approach writing your own discussion post illustrated by examples that respond to this hypothetical prompt. Let’s get started.

Step 1: Understand the Assignment and Isolate the Guiding Questions.  Before you start writing, it’s a good idea to take your assignment prompt, break it down into pieces, and then figure out what you’re really being asked.  For example, using the prompt provided above, here are the guiding questions that emerge:

1.   Why did you choose to attend Walden University? 
2.   What is it about the University, your program, Walden’s mission, or the environment that led you to choose to pursue your degree here?
3.   What do you hope to achieve personally through your learning at Walden?
4.   How do you see your degree furthering your professional goals?

This prompt is asking students to reflect on their reasons for choosing Walden and explain how Walden will help them personally and professionally in the future, which will require use of the first person singular such as I, me, and my. In addition, these questions suggest that this post is going to be quite personal and may not require much outside research. If you have further questions about understanding the assignment, you can read this webpage or listen to this podcast for more ideas.

Step 2: Break the Questions Down into Paragraph Sized Chunks. Once you know what questions you’re being asked, you can choose how to group them into topics that will guide your paragraphs. Questions 1 and 2 from above are quite similar, so those could be combined in one paragraph. Questions 3 and 4 are different though, so those could be separate. Using the outlined questions above, here are some options for paragraph focus:

1.   Why did you choose to attend Walden University and what is it about the University, your program, Walden’s mission, or the environment that led you to choose to pursue your degree here?
2.   What do you hope to achieve personally through your learning at Walden?
3.   How do you see your degree furthering your professional goals?

Sometimes, each question will result in its own paragraph (as with questions 2 and 3 here).  Other times, similar questions can be grouped together and answered in one paragraph (as illustrated with question 1 here). In other instances, you might need a few paragraphs to answer a complicated question.

Step 3: Write Topic Sentences.  One way to draft a topic sentence is to take one of your questions and then write a succinct response to it. This succinct response will overview the main idea of the paragraph to come.  For example, topic sentences for the questions above could read like this:

1.    I chose Walden University because of its commitment to social change and the flexibility of the online program for working professionals.
2.    Personally, I hope to learn how to more effectively integrate research into my nursing practice with increased knowledge of Evidence Based Practice.
3.    Receiving my MSN from Walden will allow me to more successfully accomplish my professional goals of becoming a nursing leader and influencing the quality of patient care.

These sample topic sentences don’t give away everything, but they hint at some overarching main ideas and function as signposts for the reader.  Topic sentences also make the writer’s job easier. While these topic sentences may change after the rest of the paragraph has been written, having a topic sentence to start will assist in guiding your ideas and the focus of the paragraph. You can read this webpage for more ideas on writing successful topic sentences.

Step 4: Build Paragraphs by Adding Evidence, Analysis, and Lead Outs.  The next step is to fill in the rest of these body paragraphs using the MEAL plan for paragraphing.  Using the MEAL plan, paragraphs will start with a Main Idea (M), followed by Evidence (E), with Evidence supported by Analysis (A), and ending in a Lead out (L).  For example, this first body paragraph of the outline above could read like this:

I chose Walden University because of its commitment to social change and the flexibility of the online program for working professionals [Main Idea]. When I became an RN 15 years ago, I did so because I wanted to make a difference in my community. I saw a need for compassionate and knowledgeable nurses, and I knew that I could fill that gap. After working all this time in the health care field, I still feel passionately about helping my community, but I don’t always feel like I know the best ways how to do that. Walden’s mission is to provide “a diverse community of career professionals with the opportunity to transform themselves as scholar-practitioners so that they can effect positive social change” (Walden University, 2015) [Evidence]. I support this mission and believe that pursuing my degree here will allow me to be a more effective social change agent [Analysis]. In addition, I want to pursue my MSN while still working full time as an RN, and this decision cut out many potential programs that require attendance in the classroom [Evidence]. Walden’s online environment will allow me to pursue my degree in order to be better at my job while still working my job [Analysis]. Overall, I am pursuing my degree at Walden because of my passion for social change and desire to still work full time while being in school, which Walden not only allows but supports [Lead Out].

Since this prompt is reflective, the evidence here is personal example along with a quotation of the Walden mission.  All of these elements work together to clearly show the reader the response to the question and to offer support, reasoning, and concluding thoughts. You can watch this webinar for more about writing effective academic paragraphs.

Step 5: Write an Introduction. The introduction for a discussion post functions in a similar fashion to introductions in other forms of academic writing, but since a post is a shorter document, this introduction can be too. The two main things that are needed are background information and a clear statement of purpose. For example, an introduction for this sample could read as follows:

Professionals choose to go back to college for many reasons including to learn more, to get a promotion, to earn more money, to switch careers, or to make a difference. Students that come to Walden have unique reasons because of Walden’s mission for social change and its 100% online environment [Background]. The purpose of this discussion post is to share why I chose to pursue my MSN at Walden University and to explain what I hope to achieve personally and professionally [Purpose Statement].

Although some may start the process of writing a discussion post with the introduction, waiting until this moment to write the introduction allows you to have a better understanding of (1) what background information your reader needs to know and (2) what you are doing in the post so that you can clearly state your purpose. You can read this webpage for more about writing introductions.

Step 6: Write a Conclusion. Like an introduction, the conclusion for a discussion post can also be brief.  The conclusion paragraph is an opportunity to restate your main ideas from the post and discuss the significance of the post.  For example, a conclusion paragraph for this sample prompt might be as follows:

While several factors came together to drive me to pursue my MSN at Walden University, the online environment and commitment to social change were the significant components that prompted me to make my decision to enroll here [Restate Main Ideas]. In the next few semesters, pursuing this degree will help me personally as I learn more about Evidence Based Practice and professionally as I strive to become a nursing leader and influence the quality of patient care in my place of work [Significance].

You can read this webpage for more about writing conclusions, and this webinar offers more on writing introductions and conclusions.

Step 7: Revise and Edit. The paper draft is now complete which means that it’s time to revise and edit.  This is also a good time to add transitions and connect ideas. Here are some strategies for revising and editing:

·      Make a Paper Review appointment and get some feedback from a Writing Instructor on your draft.
·      Ask a friend, family member, colleague, or peer to read through your post and give you revision or editing ideas.
·      Read through your post out loud to catch anything that sounds odd, and revise or edit.
·      Set your discussion post draft aside and revisit it later since distance can increase clarity for revision and editing.
·      Run your paper through Grammarly to get ideas for editing and proofreading.

You can read this webpage, read this blogpost, or watch this webinar for more ideas on how to revise.  In addition, you can read this webpage for more tips on how to proofread and edit.

There you have it: Seven steps for drafting a discussion post. If you’re looking for further discussion post writing strategies, you might also appreciate this webpage and this webinar.

Best to you as you prepare to write your next discussion post. Please let us know in the comments how this strategy works for you or if you have questions or other approaches that you’d like to share for how to write and draft discussion posts.

Happy writing!

Jes Philbrook
is a Writing Instructor in the Walden University Writing Center. An experienced online teacher and tutor, Jes has graded and tutored many discussion posts these last few years, so these tips come from much practice reviewing student writing. She lives in Columbia, Missouri with her husband and two cats as she continues to write her dissertation in pursuit of her PhD in English at the University of Missouri.

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Thursday Thoughts: WriteCast Returns!

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The Writing Center is proud to announce the return of the WriteCast Podcast. 

Painless Paragraphs: The NO TEARS Plan for Composing Academic Prose

There are many changes that come with transitioning from school level to school level. Some of these changes are obvious, but many are not. One of the most common sources of confusion (and sometimes tears) is the change in writing expectations at key transition points.

Documenting Website Sources - An APA How-To

Today we’re going to talk about citing information from a website. Not only is Walden an online university, but the Internet is full of informative and useful sources at our disposal for research! With so much easy access to digital information, we frequently cite website content, but finding the right information that we need for our reference list and in-text citations can be a little bit tricky and takes some know-how and sleuthing. Knowing how to cite a webpage in APA form is very important, so today let’s look at a visual breakdown of some of those harder-to-find parts of a web citation so that you can become a web-citing pro!

Reference Entry
To correctly reference a webpage, you’ll need the following information:

Authors’ Name (or Organization’s Name if there is no given author). Year (if you can’t find one, write “n.d.” like in this example). Webpage title. Retrieved from URL.

Here’s the correct References List entry if we had used website content from the American Federation of Teachers website:

American Federation of Teachers. (n.d.). About us. Retrieved from http://www.aft.org/about

Now let’s try another webpage on the AFT site with some visual examples for finding all the necessary information.

A screen capture image of the AFT website, illustrating how to find certain information to create Reference entries for webcontent

First we need the Author/Organization. You’ll see above that the author’s name isn’t at the top of this article and there isn’t any author bio next to it. Sometimes the author information is here, but if it isn’t, check the bottom of the page.

See that name all the way at the bottom of this page? That’s the author! He was pretty hidden, and if there hadn’t been a tag at the bottom, we would cite this page just like the example above with the organization name.

A screen capture image of the AFT website showing the location of the author information

2. Publication Year
Now we need to find the Publication Year if there is one. It will usually be at the top of an article, but sometimes may be at the bottom or even at the very bottom of the webpage itself.

Screen Capture Image of the AFT website and how to find the date

There’s our date! We’ll just need the year, 2016, for the webpage.

Here’s a different example of what a date might look like:

Alternative means for finding the date

Sometimes the date will be in the copyright at the bottom of the page. The American Nurses Association page, for example, has the copyright year 2016 at the bottom of the page, so we would use that if we were citing their webpages.

Special note: If this copyright read 1999-2016, we would only cite the most recent year rather than the date range.

3. Title of Webpage
Next we need the Title of the Webpage. You can find this in the name at the top of the tab. If the name is longer than the tab length, then look to the page itself for the full title.

Screen capture image of how to find the title of the webpage

In this case, we know that the full title is “Carrying the message about a threat to worker rights”. Don’t forget to format the title with APA reference case.

4. URL
The URL is the easiest part of a web citation! You just copy and paste. For APA you do not need to include a retrieved from date, simply “retrieved from” and then the URL.

Screen capture image on finding the URL to include in your References page

Currently for APA links should not be active in a reference list, so if Word does this automatically, right click and select “remove hyperlink”.

Also, note that APA states to break apart URLs at a punctuation mark (like a period, slash, or dash) with a space so that part of the URL fits on the “retrieved from” line. It’s a little tricky, but fiddle around with adding a space at different punctuation marks to see what helps the URL fit best.

5. Putting it all Together!
Now we have all of our information:
Name: Mike Rose, Year: 2016, Website Title: Carrying the message about a threat to worker rights. URL: http://www.aft.org/news/carrying-message-about-threat-worker-rights

Rose, M., (2016). Carrying the message about a threat to worker rights. Retrieved from http://www.aft.org/news/carrying-message-about-threat-worker-rights

Voila! A website citation. Note that for web citations you’ll need to cite every page you use from that website separately. So if you wanted to use other pages from the American Federation of Teachers, you’d need to have a reference entry for each one.

Using In-Text Citations for your website content
For an in-text citation you use pretty much the same rules as a regular citation, except that if you use a direct quote, you’ll need to use a paragraph number instead of a page number (since webpages are usually not numbered). So if I wanted to quote “On Jan. 6, union members attempted to deliver more than 100,000 petition signatures to the Center for Individual Rights in Washington, D.C., which is behind the Friedrichs lawsuit”, which is in the second paragraph block of the page, my citation would look like this “Quote” (Rose, 2016, para. 2).

This is a lot of information but I promise that you’ll get used to where to look for webpage citation information over time until it becomes habit and you can recognize the patterns. Still having trouble? Bookmark this post and use it as a guide any time you’re stumped! We even have a page on the WUWC webpage that outlines this process. Check it out! In other words, don't memorize this info. Instead, become comfortable using all the resources you have at your disposal. That’s what they're here for.

Have other tips or questions for citing webpages? We'd love to hear them in the comments section below!

Claire Helakoski
 is a Writing Instructor  at the Walden Writing Center and holds an MFA in Creative Writing. She has taught writing and Composition as well as acted as a writer and editor in a variety of mediums. She lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and enjoys reading, writing creatively, and board games of all kinds 

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