A category page shows a list of child forums and/or categories, but it does not show any messages. In contrast, a forum page shows messages posted in this forum and its child forums. A forum can have child forums, but not child categories.
A category is for organizing child categories and forums; a forum is for organizing child forums and messages.
For example, a broad topic such as "Computer" should be created as a category, not a forum, because there are many child forums under it. If it were a forum, there would be too many messages shown at the parent level. A well designed category is like a resource page with links providing easy access to all related forums. From a category page you can also search all forums below it and set email alerts for new messages that match your search query.
If your goal is to start a new discussion, you should create a forum, not a category.
Related help articles: What's the right way to catalog forums and messages?
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