When it comes to writing a brilliant first draft of your Extended Essay, or any essay, I fully believe that a solid structure is one of the surest guarantees of success there is. It’s the skeleton of the essay that makes it into a fully formed being instead of a pile of jelly. And the best way to make sure you have a skeleton instead of just gelatine (is that a rhyme?) is to create a plan or outline.
We’ve talked about how to choose a topic, go about your research, and pin down a research question. So now we’re going to address how you can take all of that work and turn it into a concrete plan. It’s all about organising your ideas so that they are as clear as possible. After you’ve done this, writing the essay will be about simply filling in the gaps!
Preparing to construct your Extended Essay Outline
Know your destination
Although your research question should already suggest what you are aiming to achieve in the essay, your conclusion needs to take this a step further. It can’t just be the same as your introduction but in different words (as tempting as that option is!). Everything in your essay should take the reader on a journey to this conclusion. It should help progress your argument so that we get closer with every paragraph.
If you’re now realising that you don’t know your destination, take the time to figure this out before you start writing. The results of a Science experiment will make it pretty obvious, but even in more subjective subjects such as English, History and World Studies you need to decide what conclusion your research points towards.
My advice to you, if you simply aren’t sure, is to follow your instincts. Think about how your evidence has affected what you personally think about the topic. Chances are it will have convinced you of something. For a reminder of different types of essay conclusions, there are some useful summaries in this article.
Exercise 1: summarise your conclusion in one sentence. Even if it’s not exactly right, or if it doesn’t include everything you feel is important about your topic, compress it as much as you can into one core idea. If you can’t do this right away then set a timer for five minutes and start drafting sentences about what you ‘think’ your essay might conclude. At the end of the five minutes pick the one that you feel summarises it best.
Define your ideas
Take a moment to free your mind from all the details, facts, quotes and data. Go back to the essence of your essay, which is the argument you are trying to make. Without using your research to speak for itself, identify all the different ideas you want to include, and the things you want to say.
For example, you might have evidence that Virginia Woolf uses imagery of flowers frequently throughout Mrs Dalloway, but what does this actually mean in the context of your question? The idea behind it might relate more to her affinity with nature, or the parallels she draws between flowers and people.
Exercise 2: write down all the ideas you want to include in your essay. Don’t worry about an order yet. Focus instead of getting all of your ‘points’ written down somewhere. Not only is this likely to help your organise your thoughts, but it will also mean you can refer back to it later to make sure you haven’t forgotten one of your favourite ideas! This can take the form of a mind map, a list, a Word Doc. Do whatever feels easiest, because chances are this is what will help your ideas flow naturally.
Filter your evidence
I can 99% guarantee you that you won’t be able to use all the research you have done. A lot of it will be:
- Irrelevant to the question
- Repetition of what you already have
- Not quite right for your line of argument
THEREFORE it is important that you filter your evidence so that you only have the best examples and information.
Use your research question as your starting point and your conclusion sentence (the one you wrote earlier) as the end point. It is your job to make sure that every piece of research is part of a bridge between the two. Absolutely every quote, fact or piece of data that you include should actively answer your question. If it doesn’t, don’t include it.
Exercise 3: First, highlight the clearest, most informative research that you have gathered. Next, take all of these pieces of research, and write a short, one-sentence summary next to each one, describing how it relates to your question. Use your own words. You will hopefully start finding that they are backing up some of the points you know you want to include.
Constructing your Extended Essay Outline
There are different techniques you can use to structure an essay. Because the Extended Essay is much longer than what most of you will be used to, I strongly recommend using a particular technique or process to do this. Below are some examples, and you should do whatever works best for you.
The Bullet-Point Outline:
You know this one. It’s the most classic example of how to structure an essay and the one most of you have probably tried before. The trick with this one is to start small and expand outwards afterwards.
- Summarise each paragraph into one line that defines the idea or sub-topic behind it.
- Expand each paragraph summary by adding 2 extra bullet points:
- Evidence, data or a quote
- How the example relates to the idea you are trying to convey
- Expand your paragraph bullet points by adding in other ideas or points that are directly relevant to the overall idea behind it
The Post-it Note Outline:
I’m defining this as anything that involves you breaking down your paragraphs into defined pieces. Post-it notes, cards, and scraps of paper are the most common examples. This option is brilliant if you struggle coming up with an order for your ideas straight away. Instead it lets you play around with all the different parts of your essay as you go, until you have put them in the best possible order.
If you like the idea of this process but can’t stand the idea of lots of physical pieces of paper, there are some apps that perform a similar function such as Gingko or Evernote.
The Spreadsheet Outline:
For the structure nuts among you. The beauty of this is that it lets you easily compare paragraphs in terms of length and content by breaking each one down into clear sections. You can choose how exactly you format it, but it might look like this:
As with the post-it version it is super easy to use this method to change the order of your paragraphs. You can also tailor the columns depending on what categories are most relevant to you. If you want to go a step further you can even colour code your sheet, for example according to 1st hand data or 2nd hand data, or close analysis and thematic analysis.
The key is to have a view of the bigger picture of your essay. How you go about it is up to you!
Read Part 5: How to Write It
The IB Extended Essay is a 4,000-word thesis written under a supervision of an advisor and is a mandatory component of the IB Diploma. This essay, along with the TOK presentation, could give you up to 3 additional points toward your overall Diploma score.
Table Of Contents
How do I start my Extended Essay?
The best way to start an essay with a free-ended topic is to find an area of interest. What would you like to write about? Brainstorm if you have no ideas. Jam-write for 10 minutes straight without stopping or make a mind map of what you’re interested in. EssayPro has many good brainstorming tips here.
How do I Pick an IB Essay Topic
Pick a topic that’s one of your IB subjects or something that’s closely related to your hobbies or passions. In this stage, make sure your topic is broad, so you have room for exploration.
Now, this topic is too broad. It could be a novel or a Ph.D. dissertation. That’s no good; you need to narrow this topic down.
At this point, you should do some research on your topic and find out if you’re actually interested in it. If you find it boring, refer back to the brainstorming section.
How do I create a research question?
Now that you know more about your topic, ask questions that pique your interests as well as ones that you crave an answer for. This is essential for Criterion A (research question).
Here is an example of some good research questions or potential topics:
- Economics: How did College Board monopolize aptitude testing?
- Psychology: What affects did the Syrian refugee crisis have on the psyche of young Children?
- History: How did the Second Red Scare, lasting roughly from 1950 to 1956, heighten tensions between Russia and America during the Cold War.
- Chemistry: How does Iron sedimentation affect the water quality in West Africa?
- Biology: Do earlier school start times hinder children’s ability to learn?
- English: How has Albert Camus’ novel The Stranger been lost in translation?
- Math: What makes Euler’s Identity the most beautiful equation of all time?
- Film: How has Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho shaped the thriller genre?
How do I pick an Advisor?
Pick an Advisor that knows a lot about your topic. A biology teacher would not be great for your History EE.
Meeting with your advisor is not mandatory, however, it is a very good idea to do so. The more help you can get on this thing, the better.
When is a good time to start writing?
Start as soon as possible. Your life will be so much easier if you have your essay complete before Year II. If you’re overwhelmed during the school year, do your extended essay during the summer; your future you will thank you.
Now that you have your research question, build a paper outline around it. The introduction should contain your research query and your main argument, otherwise known as the thesis statement. The body is easiest to divide into three parts. The conclusion should restate your argument and summarize your findings. An outline should just be the notes of what you plan to state. Do not fiddle with the roman numerals; keep it clean with bullet points and short sentences.
At this stage, you should be reading through your primary sources and creating an annotated bibliography. This just means posting any relevant information that you plan to quote or use in your essay into a separate document and listing some points that you plan to address. Start your Works Cited page right away.
An extended essay cover page is easy, but an extremely important component of your essay. If you don’t follow the title page format of the IB closely, you might jeopardize your essay score. The title page is a standalone document with the title of your essay and your name centered. Include the name of your school and your IB number.
Your paper introduction should state your thesis and your research question. In order to get the highest benchmark for this section, you must present this: “The context of the research question is clearly demonstrated. The introduction clearly explains the significance of the topic and why it is worthy of investigation.” This last sentence is important. Don’t forget to state why your topic is important to study. This is a good tip for any essay; if something isn’t important, why would it be worth reading?
Essay Writing Advice From Our Professional Team
Jessie Pro Writer, from EssayPro
Writing a good extended essay is difficult, but if you are an IB student, you’ll know that those three extra points can really make a big difference. Remember that it's not as overwhelming as it sounds. Some people write a custom essay that’s 6,000 to 8,000 words long, while others will reach about 2800-3500 on their first draft. An important thing to keep in mind that 4,000 words is the maximum word count.
Personal writer advice is to start this as soon as possible. You will thank yourself in the second year if you already have your extended essay done. If word count is what you’re worried about, then you would probably want to write over 3,000 words, since a short essay might imply that the topic was not investigated thoroughly. However, some essay topics may require only 2,000 words to investigate them fully. As the article articulates and I want to reinforce: do not pick a subject that you don’t think you’ll like. It is of utmost importance that you genuinely enjoy what you’re writing about. The topic selection is wide enough; you can explore any IB class that exists. One constraint though is that you cannot do your essay in Theory of Knowledge. In gist, aim high and you will succeed!
Breaking down the IB Extended Essay criteria
Criterion A: Make sure your research question is “sharp and focused”. This is not a place to add snaz to your writing.
Criterion B: Restate your research question and state your thesis. Make sure to define exactly why your research query is important.
Criterion C: Use a wide range of primary, secondary, and tertiary sources. Don’t forget to work on that Works Cited page as you go.
Criterion D: Make sure you wholesomely understand what you’re writing about. Spend a lot of time reading your sources and learning things about your subject.
Criterion E: Your essay needs to flow logically and coherently. Stick to your outline, don’t go on tangents. Extra information that doesn’t answer your research topic will not grant you a better mark, it will only hinder the overall quality of your essay.
Criterion F: Analyze your information. Make connections throughout your essay. Don’t simply list factual information; no one wants to read that. In order to really hit those top scores, you need to elaborate on multiple aspects of the information you present.
Criterion G: Make sure your language is coherent and straight to the point. Avoid passive constructions and adverbs.
Criterion H: Your conclusion is very important; as mentioned before, you should restate your findings and include any unresolved questions you didn’t answer in your body paragraphs.
Criterion I: This criterion is the easiest to do and the easiest to mess up. After completing your essay, double and triple check that your “layout, organization, appearance and formal elements of the essay consistently follow a standard format.” Make sure you have the title page, table of contents, page numbers, illustrative material, quotations, documentation (including references, citations and bibliography) and appendices.
Criterion J: Your essay needs to be special. Throughout your essay and in your conclusion, demonstrate “intellectual initiative, depth of understanding and insight.” Be analytical and define why your topic is important. If you are interested in what you’re saying, most likely the reader will also be fond of your information.