How to: Extended Essay

By: Francesca S

The Extended Essay (EE) is a core component of the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program (IB DP). The essay is defined to be “an independent, self-directed piece of research, finishing with a 4,000-word paper.” This means there are three important aspects to it: it’s independent, self-directed and requires research. In other words, if one of these aspects fails (eg: you buy your essay online or you only write two thousands words), then it can’t be considered an EE.

The extended essay is really an occasion for you to write about a topic that interests you, whether known or yet to be known. Given the length and time spent on this essay, it is recommended to chose an idea that you are personally passionate about, the topic should fall in one of the IB courses (Mathematics, Theatre, Economics, Spanish etc) and the question or title of the EE should be open-ended, so any questions that start with “to what extent,” “how and why,” or any prompt that leads to an exploration. In the case of the sciences, Chemistry for instance, you can lead an experiment and the method, data and conclusion become the emphasis of the essay.

The IB also lets you have an advisor for your EE, or an IB teacher who is willing to help, so read your drafts, give good feedback and discuss your paper with you. It is best that your advisor is a teacher of the subject you are writing your extended essay on, as they are probably the most knowledgeable. The advisor can only suggest improvements and the time recommended of student-advisor interaction is of two to three hours.

Your EE will be composed of a cover page, an abstract, a contents page, the essay (illustrations of any kind are also permitted as long as they are relevant) and a bibliography. The essay can itself be subdivided into chapters or sections – often the introduction and conclusion are chapters. In fact, the structure of the essay should be very clear and the parts should be connected well so to answer the research question. The bibliography, as well as citations throughout the essay, are very important! Any information coming from all types of sources should be cited, so to credit the true author and is an acknowledgement of you using their information: quotes (ie: from a novel), specific-information (ie: statistics), original conclusions (ie: critic’s perspective). Also, there are different ways to cite, it is best to choose one style and be consistent with it throughout the whole paper. It is also worthy mentioning that 4,000 words is the limit therefore your essay should be below that. Often, a suggested minimum is 3,500 but there is not official minimum set by the IB. Furthermore one needs to keep in mind the subject the essay deals with as often a mathematics paper will not be as long as an English paper or a history paper for example.

The research that needs to be conducted to answer the EE’s question is the part prior to the writing. Use valuable, valid and reliable sources for the topic you chose: primary resources are often considered best, but sometimes harder to find. In some subject areas, it is recommended to find recent sources, but the specifics are up to you to judge! It may seem odd, but the research might take more time than the writing will. Actually, if the research is fulfilling and provides the right information to answer your question it might be simpler to structure the essay and write it – as by then you are comfortable in answering the question.

With good research the writing part should follow easily. There are many ways to tackle it, some prefer giving successive deadlines and write small portions each time, others prefer longer-term deadlines but write one full chapter in that time. Whichever the case may be, write following an outline and stick by the due dates you gave yourself or the school gives you. There will be occasion for rough copies to be made before the final one. Personally, I recommend for the introductory chapter to be done before the end of grade 11.

The extended essay is a very important part of your IB curriculum, not only is it a core component (this means that if you fail the EE, you fail the IB), but along with Theory of Knowledge, a high score can get you three bonus points. So, take your time, do it on something you find enjoyable, trust your advisor, follow the guidelines and the due dates, and work hard on it!


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