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

Where instructors and editors talk writing.

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

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 learning environment that led you 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, you can read our understanding the assignment webpage or listen to our podcast episode on assignment instructions 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 learning environment that led you 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.

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 that 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, para. 4) [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 a recording of our Writing Effective Academic Paragraphs webinar for more about the MEAL Plan.

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, its introduction can be shorter, 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.

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].

For more on these parts of your paper, we recommend our conclusions webpage and the recording of our Beginnings and Endings: Introduce and Conclude Your Writing webinar.

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.

For more ideas on how to revise, see our revision webpage, learning to revise blog post, or Improving Your Writing: Strategies for Revising, Proofing, and Using Feedback webinar recording.  In addition, you can read our proofreading 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 our webpage on writing a successful discussion post and our Writing and Responding to Discussion Posts webinar recording.

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 author picture

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.

Never miss a new post; Opt-out at any time


  1. Thank you Jes for sharing this to me as a beginner student.



    1. Thank you, Putra! Good luck to you as you begin your studies.

  2. Excellent advise, thank you!

    1. Thank you, Rob! We have numerous resources to help with all stages of the writing process, both here and on our homepage:

  3. Excellent! The only thing I might add is a suggestion to use headings for each section of a longer post.

    1. That's a fantastic idea, DJ. Yes, headings can absolutely be used to divide up longer posts. At what stage in the process do you typically create your headings? I imagine it could work between steps 2 and 3, so in addition to creating topic sentences at that stage, one could create headings too. I could also see it working to create them at stage 7, when editing and revising. Thank you for sharing your idea.

  4. I am very much interested in this and hope to be in the lucky ones getting the best of it

    1. Wonderful, Alinur! We hope your writing is going well.

  5. I got incredible information how to attempt effectively for my first week discussion post. Thank for your credible resources!

    1. Great to hear, Bekur! Thanks for using our resources!

  6. Thank you for sharing this useful piece of information.

  7. Very succinct,and easy enough to follow. Thank you very much! Keep up the great work!

    1. Thanks, Raymond! We're glad you found this blog post helpful.

  8. Thanks for the information.

    1. You are welcome, Theresa. Thank you for your comment. Hopefully this post will help you write organized, effective discussion posts!

  9. Thanks Jes it was very imformative information on how to write and post discussions.

  10. Thank you for providing this information.

    1. You are very welcome. If you would like to learn more about writing organized, detailed essays based on a prompt, we hope you'll check out another of our blog posts called Prompted to Write. It's very helpful and you'll develop many new strategies for creating outlines from your prompts!

  11. Jes, your post is very insightful and is a good first step to writing discussion posts.
    I wanted to know if it is expected to have a heading for conclusion? Or could I have the conclusion as a regular paragraph towards the end of a discussion post?
    Also is there a format to follow while replying to discussion posts?

    Do let me know your thoughts.

    - Karishma

    1. Hi Karishma,

      We’re glad you enjoyed the post!

      Discussion posts often follow the same format as an APA paper unless the professor requests otherwise or you are pasting the response directly into the discussion thread in Blackboard. It is best to refer to the guidelines from the prompt.

      Discussion post responses are often shorter assignments, so headings are often not used. If you do have a longer discussion post assignment, such as one that requires a 3-5-page response to various questions, you can use headings for different sections of the post to include the conclusion paragraph.

      You can learn more about discussion posts—to include formatting—on our website:

      I hope this helps, Karishma!


  12. Thank you for making our lives easier. I liked the fact that you gave us examples along the way. This makes it more easy to apply.

  13. I thoroughly enjoyed the writing tips and information on how to start a discussion session. Thank you so much!

    1. We are glad you found this helpful! Discussion posts are a regular part of any online course, so we want to make sure everyone is confident when it comes to writing them.