The Extended Essay (EE) is a compulsory component of the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme (DP), which requires students to undertake a self-directed academic research project and present it in the form of a 4,000-word paper. The final work is evaluated on a scale from E to A and contributes to each student’s overall IB score. To excel in the EE, here are some tips and suggestions we have compiled.

Based on these new guidelines, your EE needs to contain:
• A research question
• A cover-page
• A table of contents
• An introduction
• A main body
• A conclusion
• A bibliography
• 3 reflections from the beginning, middle and end of the research process.

Choosing a topic

  • Generate Ideas Based on Your Interests

Begin by brainstorming your interests. If you already have a subject in mind for your essay, take a piece of paper and spend 5 minutes jotting down all the topics and lessons that you enjoyed in the past year. Then, dedicate another 5 minutes to listing the subjects you haven’t covered yet but wish you had. This could include books you’d love to study in English or areas of history that have piqued your interest but haven’t been covered in class.

Tip: If you’re unsure about the subject for your essay, don’t worry. Start by listing your interests outside the classroom. You can still write them down without concerning yourself too much about fitting them into a specific subject. Later on, see if any of these interests can be related to an appropriate subject. 

  • Do a freestyle research binge

Engage in a freestyle research binge on Google by setting a timer for an hour. Begin reading about any topic that catches your interest, and when something related intrigues you, follow the link or conduct further searches, allowing Google to guide you in the direction of your curiosity. Keep in mind that there are no specific rules or agenda, except to stay focused on your extended essay subject and avoid obvious procrastination traps like Buzzfeed.

As you delve into your research, make rough notes of the things that truly capture your attention along the way. Afterward, take a break for a week, giving your thoughts time to settle. When the week is over, take a piece of paper and jot down what you remember from your earlier research. The ideas that have stuck in your head are likely the ones that fascinated you the most—use them as your starting point for further exploration.


  1. Evernote: An all-in-one note-taking app that allows you to organize your research, save articles, web clips, and images, and make annotations.
  2. Zotero: A powerful research tool that helps you collect, organize, cite, and share your sources, including webpages, articles, books, and more.
  3. Mendeley: A reference manager that lets you save and organize research papers, create citations, and collaborate with others in your field.
  4. Instapaper: Similar to Pocket, Instapaper allows you to save articles and webpages for later reading, making it convenient for offline access.

Starting your research

Following the meeting with your supervisor, it is time to begin researching your topic! This does not have to be too detailed to begin with, and we recommend aiming to research enough to write an introduction to your essay. This introduction should outline the main themes you will explore and your line of argument. To reiterate, your main argument may change as your essay develops, so do not worry if it is not perfect when you begin.

Some useful sources of information are your school library, Google Scholar, or Jstor. Your school librarian may be able to suggest some good books or articles to start reading, whilst using academic sources like Jstor or Google scholar gives you access to a wide range of academic material. When reading books or journal articles, you do not have to read them cover to cover! In fact, you should only read the sections that are relevant to your topic, and reading the introduction and conclusion will often tell you whether a journal article is relevant.

When reading, consistently keep in mind your essay title as this will help you to focus your reading on key sections of texts. For instance, highlight the key sections of the texts to review later. Alternatively, you could make notes in a separate word document; such as Googledocs; or with pen and paper. It is useful to keep everything you do in the same format, however, so you can easily collate it.

The most difficult part with the EE is getting the first draft down. Many students struggle o to write the perfect introduction and methodology, and get stuck for weeks in the process. Your introduction and first draft do not have to be perfect but should form the base of your essay moving forward. It is often good to form a plan from your research that contains the key elements of each paragraph. Once you are confident with this and have filled it in with more research, you can turn this into a fully operational first draft.

We recommend breaking down the writing stage into several paragraphs, setting yourself mini-goals to achieve. This will help you to move along faster and make the seemingly daunting task of a 4,000-word essay a lot simpler. Similarly, you should use the research you have to support your ideas. Your research might consist of facts to back up your analysis or other writers’ opinions that agree with your own. Furthermore, you can also use this research to explore multiple points of view, coming to a conclusion as to which one is most appropriate. However, save yourself time whilst doing this by including links to the original article, rather than full references, as it is likely you may change the content of your essay and the references you use as you progress.

Top Tip: Make sure you save your extended essay frequently and to an accessible platform such Dropbox or Google Drive so that if your computer were to crash your progress will be stored!

Framing your research question

Once you know your extended essay subject, your next step is to choose a question. If you aren’t sure what a research question should look like, use the IBO EE Guide and past examples of titles to help you. We can see from the way that the IBO EE Guide defines the question that the most important things to consider are: a) clarity b) precision. To develop a robust research question for the IB extended essay, follow these steps:

  1. Understand the essence of your question, stripping away complex language and fancy ideas to focus on the core concept.
  2. Ensure your question genuinely captivates your interest and sparks intriguing possibilities to maintain your motivation throughout the research process.
  3. If you find your question lacks clarity or becomes uninteresting, deconstruct it into different elements. This approach allows for deeper exploration and refinement.
  4. Refine your question by identifying and extracting the keywords that succinctly summarize your topic. These keywords will act as a guide for structuring the content of your essay.
  5. Keep the selected keywords in mind during the entire writing process. This practice will help you maintain a clear focus and direction, ensuring a well-organized and coherent extended essay.

Also, double-check that your question is fulfilling every criteria possible:
1. Is it specific?
2. Can you answer it?
3. Can you address any variables?
4. Can you justify any assumptions that it makes?
5. Do you have enough research to back up your investigation?
6. Is it interesting?

Reviewing your first draft

Your aim when meeting with your supervisor this time is to look over your first draft to see which parts are excellent, which can be explored further and which need to be rethought. This can be split into a number of meetings; for example, I looked at my introduction, then at the 4 sections of my main body, and finally at my conclusion. This reshaped the goals that I had moving forward and gave me specific subsections to work on.

Whilst editing your first draft, do not be afraid to delete, reword or move some parts that you have written, as this will help you shape your extended essay into the finished article. You can, if needed, even slightly alter your question. I changed my question at the start of April, with a June deadline for my essay. However, changing my essay question did not leave me with a whole new essay to write, as I was able to use most of what I had already written, adapting it to focus on the new question. Whatever changes you have to make, they are all moving you towards a complete final version, so stay positive!

Refining your EE

After your meeting, review the changes you have to make to your methodology and research process. You should consider whether you have critically investigated the variables in your RQ and whether it is backed up by a solid methodology. For instance, are there any counter arguments you have not considered? Does your research process flow? Always draw links to each paragraph, so that your essay has a logical flow from its introduction to its argument, counter arguments, responses, and conclusion.

When researching areas in more detail, make use of what you have learnt from your current research. For instance, look at the suggested reading or references in books that you have read or look at articles from the same journal. Furthermore, stay up to date with the news in case you can include new research in your extended essay.

When editing, it is useful to save a new copy of your extended essay (for example, EE draft 2) so that you can track any changes that you make. Also, if anything were to happen to your new copy, you always have the previous copy and notes from the meeting to re-do any changes. We recommend doing this on Googledocs whether changes are saved real-time on the servers so you don’t lose precious work if your computer crashes.

When submitting your extended essay, ensure that your name, candidate number and your school’s name are not on the document. This will ensure that your EE is marked fairly without prejudice. Your EE is electronically stamped and the IB can track who it belongs to, as is your RPPF.

We wish you the best of luck with your extended essay and hope you enjoy the process. If you would like help with your extended essay, please take a look at our courses or contact us for more information. We also offer IB tuition for various subjects and University applications mentoring and are more than happy to tailor our classes to your needs and requirements!