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Academic Writing 8 – Discussion forums

Welcome back to Academic Writing – our series with the activities and tips to help you become a top-class writer. This time we're looking at a slightly less formal, but very important aspect of writing in distance learning: the language of online discussion.

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Asking questions in an online discussion

As a distance learner, you will need to ask questions on your online forum to ask for help, get information and to participate in discussions. We can ask questions either as 'direct' questions, or indirect questions.

Agora é a sua vez de praticar

Direct questions
These are very common when you're talking to someone you know, or have spoken to before. Question words are very common in direct questions. These include 'who', 'what', 'when', 'where', 'why' and 'how'. Here's an example: 'Where did you find that information?'

In direct questions, the order of the auxiliary verb and the subject is like this: 'HAVE YOU finished your assignment?'

Indirect questions
Indirect questions are very common in English because they sound more polite. Politeness is important in Western academic culture, so we love indirect questions! Let’s compare a direct question to an indirect question:

Direct: 'Where is that information?' Indirect: 'Could you tell me where that information is?'

When we make indirect questions, we use longer phrases – with question word order – at the beginning. In this example, ‘Could you tell me...’ is the longer phrase: it makes the question less direct – and therefore more polite. Notice the position of the verb 'is'. When we use a longer phrase at the beginning of an indirect question, the rest of the question uses statement word order.

Here are some more examples of polite questions: 'Do you think it is a good idea?' 'What are your thoughts regarding this issue?' 'Would you mind helping me?' 'Would it be possible to tell me more about this?'

No wh- question word? Do this...
Direct questions often start with wh- question words. But how do you make a direct question without a wh- question word into an indirect question?

Direct: 'Is this OK?' Indirect: 'Could you tell me if this is OK?'

That’s right. If there is no wh- question word in a direct question, use 'if' or 'whether' to make it into an indirect question.

Checking indirect questions

To do

Time to test yourself! Try this activity to see if you've mastered indirect questions.

Checking indirect questions

6 Questions

Choose the correct indirect question for each direct question

Parabéns! Você completou o exercício.
Excellent! Excelente! Bad luck! Você acertou:
x / y


Let's review what we've learned so far about the language used in online discussions.

  • Online discussion forums are a great way to share and improve your knowledge, and can lead to better grades.
  • You need to know how to behave – good online etiquette is important, so check the rules and expectations of your discussion forum.
  • Acronyms like LOL for 'laugh out loud' and IMO to mean 'in my opinion' are good for fast online discussions – just remember they're quite informal!
  • Use direct questions when you're talking to someone you know or have spoken to before – they're short and to the point.
  • Use indirect questions when you want to be more polite. Just remember to get the word order right!

Find out more

That's it for now! Next time we'll be looking at the language you need to turn your projects into presentations. In the meantime, click on Downloads button to get a free pdf worksheet with more activities on questions, and agreeing and disagreeing in online discussions.

Where next

Digital Literacy image link 8  GTD Academic Writing index link  OU AW image link 8

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