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 What are guidelines for writing good extended essay ?


Background on the Extended Essay from the International Baccalaureate


In order to earn the International Baccalaureate Diploma, all candidates must submit an extended essay on a topic of their choice in one of the subjects of the IB curriculum.   This culminating assessment is completed by the middle of the second year of the program.  Students are supervised by a teacher qualified to teach the subject of their essays or suitably familiar enough with the subject area to provide adequate supervision and advisement over the course of the research and writing process. The essays are graded by examiners appointed by the Chief Examiner of each subject in the IB Office in Cardiff, Wales.


Content and Length

Quality, not quantity, is the focus of the extended essay. The essay is to be the authentic, personal work of the student and to provide the student with the opportunity to engage in independent research. Emphasis is placed on the development of the skills of organizing and expressing ideas logically and coherently. Candidates should select a restricted topic rather than a broad, general one. Topic selection should be preceded by preliminary research to determine if the topic is suitable for the IB criteria. Maximum length: 4000 words.


Assessment Objectives, Requirements and Recommendations

In working on the extended essay, students are expected to:

  • plan and pursue a research project with intellectual initiative and insight
  • formulate a precise research question
  • gather and interpret material from sources appropriate to the research question
  • structure a reasoned argument in response to the research question on the basis of the material gathered
  • present their extended essay in a format appropriate to the subject, acknowledging sources in one of the established academic ways
  • use the terminology and language appropriate to the subject with skill and understanding
  • apply analytical and evaluative skills appropriate to the subject, with an understanding of the implications and the context of their research.


It is required that students:

·         choose a topic that fits into one of the subjects on the approved extended essay list (in the Coordinator’s Hand Book)

·         observe the regulations relating to the extended essay

·         meet deadlines

·         acknowledge all sources of information and ideas in an approved academic manner.


It is strongly recommended that students:

·         start work early

·         think very carefully about the research question for their essay

·         plan how, when and where they will find material for their essay

·         plan a schedule for both researching and writing the essay, including extra time for delays and unforeseen problems

·         record sources as their research progresses (rather than trying to reconstruct a list at the end)

·         have a clear structure for the essay itself before beginning to write

·         check and proofread the final version carefully

·         make sure that all basic requirements are met (for example, all students should get full marks for the abstract).

Examiners’ reports frequently emphasize the following positive steps.

Recommended: things to do

Before starting work on the extended essay, students should:

·         read the assessment criteria

·         read previous essays to identify strengths and possible pitfalls

·         spend time working out the research question (imagine the finished essay)

·         work out a structure for the essay.

During the research process, and while writing the essay, students should:

·         start work early and stick to deadlines

·         maintain a good working relationship with their supervisor

·         construct an argument that relates to the research question

·         use the library and consult librarians for advice

·         record sources as they go along (rather than trying to reconstruct a list at the end)

·         choose a new topic and a research question that can be answered if there is a problem with the original topic

·         use the appropriate language for the subject

·         let their interest and enthusiasm show.

After completing the essay, students should:

·         write the abstract

·         check and proofread the final version carefully.


Examiners’ reports also mention these things to be avoided at all costs.

Recommended: things to avoid

Students should not work with a research question that is too broad or too vague, too narrow, too difficult or inappropriate. A good research question is one that asks something worth asking and that is answerable within 40 hours/4,000 words. It should be clear what would count as evidence in relation to the question, and it must be possible to acquire such evidence in the course of the investigation. If a student does not know what evidence is needed, or cannot collect such evidence, it will not be possible to answer the research question.

In addition, students should not:

·         forget to analyse the research question

·         ignore the assessment criteria

·         collect material that is irrelevant to the research question

·         use the Internet uncritically

·         plagiarize

·         merely describe or report (evidence must be used to support the argument)

·         repeat the introduction in the conclusion

·         cite sources that are not used.

One further piece of advice is as follows: the more background a student has in the subject, the better the chance he or she has of writing a good extended essay; choosing to write the extended essay in a subject that is not being studied as part of the Diploma Program often leads to lower marks.

Award of Diploma Points – the role of The Extended Essay, and ToK

The extended essay contributes to the overall diploma score through the award of points in conjunction with theory of knowledge. A maximum of three points are awarded according to a student’s combined performance in both the extended essay and theory of knowledge.  Both the extended essay and theory of knowledge are measured against published assessment criteria. According to the quality of the work, and based on the application of these assessment criteria, a student’s performance in each of the extended essay and theory of knowledge will fall into one of the five bands previously described in the criterion for each assessment.

The total number of points awarded is determined by the combination of the performance levels achieved by the student in both the extended essay and theory of knowledge according to the following matrix.

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