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A guide to the Extended Essay

Choosing the right subjects can set up a student for life. Make sure your child starts the IB on the right foot by speaking with an EIB Consultant to pick the perfect subjects.

The Extended Essay can seem like a big project, with researching, referencing and an RPPF to think about. However, we hope to help you tackle this first taste of research by breaking down the key components, step-by-step. We hope you enjoy and find it helpful!

Choosing a topic

Choosing a topic for your extended essay can be a key decision, but, do not worry, we are here to offer some advice that will help you feel confident when picking your topic. Firstly, choose something that you are interested in! Writing on a topic that excites you will come across in your extended essay, as you will be so much more engaged. This is your chance to choose a subject that you enjoy studying and mould a question to your interests, so take this opportunity to find a question that is brilliant for you.

Secondly, we recommended that you choose a subject that you currently study, as your prior knowledge can be extended and applied to a specific area within this field. However, this does not mean that you must stick to the syllabus. Far from it, being creative and original will help your essay stand out! Although there are some guidelines that you should follow regarding layout and referencing, it is possible to personalise your extended essay to reflect you. This is not to say that writing the essay in your favourite bright pink will score highly; rather, think about how you can make your question and the way you communicate your ideas unique. In addition, if you wish to combine some of your subjects, you could look into doing a World Studies extended essay. This interdisciplinary research project takes a global challenge such as climate change and finds examples that are local to you, the students. This problem is then analysed through at least two disciplines, encouraging students to apply their knowledge from these subjects to a problem with global significance. This is an exciting opportunity and definitely worth looking into if you wish to study an interdisciplinary degree such as PPE.

For more advice on which topic areas to pick for your extended essay, please take a look at Alexander Zouev’s article.

Formatting your question

Once you know your extended essay subject, your next step is to choose a question. Often, questions will be framed as “To what extent does…”. Initially, this may phase some students; however, framing your question in this way allows you to explore different perspectives. Following multiple perspectives, and critically analysing each of these, is key to success in the extended essay. Therefore, try and shape your question so that more than one point of view can be taken.

Similarly, make the question focused! Having a focused question will guide your research (saving you time) and show that you can explore one area in detail. For example, here are 2 examples of Economics extended essay questions:

  1. To what extent do social media platforms compete with each other?
  2. To what extent do Facebook and Twitter operate in a duopoly in the UK social media market?

Number 2 is more focused than number 1, allowing for greater in-depth research into which areas they are competing over. You could focus this question further by analysing how Facebook and Twitter are used by students at your school and undertake an Economic survey to gather this data (giving you room for an evaluation of your data set as well). There are 6 marks for focus and method, with 12 marks for critical thinking – This means having a research question that allows you to explore a specific area in detail will definitely help you to score highly.

Whether you need help forming a research question, reviewing your extended essay or putting the final touches to it, we can help you at our summer courses. These take place in London, Lausanne, Frankfurt and Singapore. Book your place here!

Arranging a meeting with your supervisor

We recommend meeting with your supervisor as early as possible to check whether your research question is appropriate. If it is, this is a great opportunity to explore potential avenues of research. For example, a Physics extended essay on the path of a table tennis ball may look to incorporate several different features, such as gravity, weight, force and air resistance into a model. Alternatively, a History extended essay may explore different key players within a historical battle or transition. Whichever subject area you choose, your supervisor is usually your first port of call for any questions you have. Do not be afraid to ask for help, as this is likely to be your first ever research project, so your supervisor will be there to guide you.

During the meeting, it is also worth establishing a timeline for your extended essay project. Although this may only be rough, this will give you deadlines to work towards (much like you will need to do for university essays). Similarly, setting goals for your next meeting, such as writing an introduction and finding 10 appropriate sources, will also give you definitive targets to meet. Make sure at the end of this meeting you have clear goals to achieve and a next meeting scheduled to achieve these by.

Furthermore, make sure that you are keeping a record of all of your meetings with your extended essay supervisor. 6 of the 36 marks for the EE are from your Reflections on Planning and Progress Form (RPPF) where you reflect on the meetings you have had with your supervisor. These should show that you are engaged with your topic, so discuss the ideas you have considered in response to setbacks whilst writing your extended essay and make sure to use personal pronouns (I, my) to convey your engagement. Detail any changes you made to your research method and demonstrate how you have taken a creative approach to your topic, as these will highlight what you have done to stand out.


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 or local library and Google scholar. Your school librarian may be able to suggest some good books or articles to start reading, whilst using 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. You could also ask your school librarian for any subscriptions the school has – these can range from magazines such as New Statesman and New Scientist to academic journals such as the British Medical Journal or Quarterly Journal of Economics. Another good source of reading materials is university first-year reading lists. These are likely to be introductory texts exploring a number of areas and are often available for free online. For example, the University of Reading publish their Introduction to Microeconomics reading list with links to online sources also attached.

When reading, consistently keep in mind your essay title as this will help you to focus your reading on key sections of texts. To do this, you could always have a post-it with your extended essay question written on it stuck in the corner of your computer screen! In addition, there are several strategies for taking notes; for example, you could highlight key sections of the texts to come back to later. Alternatively, you could make notes in a separate word document; using an app such as OneNote or Evernote; or with pen and paper. It is useful to keep everything you do in the same format, however, so you can easily collate it. To reiterate, academic reading can be difficult, so do not be afraid to look up definitions, ask your supervisor or come back to re-read it after a week.

First Draft

As you progress with your research, you should begin writing a first draft of your extended essay. Like the introduction, this does not have to be perfect but should form the spine 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 keep your essay progressing week-by-week 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 as Dropbox or Google Drive so that if your computer were to crash your progress will survive. You do not want to be the student that loses their extended essay the week before the deadline…

Reviewing your first draft

Your aim when meeting with your supervisor this time is to look over your first draft is 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!

Making relevant changes and researching key areas

Immediately following your meeting, make a list of the changes you need to make to your extended essay, forming these into a time plan. Work backwards from 2-weeks before the extended essay is due (to give yourself some contingency), scheduling what you need to do and when you will meet with your supervisor again to tick off this section. Looking at your essay, ask whether every sentence is relevant to your question. Also, think about whether it is backed up by evidence and if there are any counter arguments you have not considered that you have space to include. If these are all checked, try to link your paragraphs, 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. This will impress examiners and show you are truly intrigued in your topic area.

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If you are over the word count, consider the following do’s and don’ts:

When editing, it is useful to save a new copy of your extended essay (for example, EE version 2) so that you can track your progress. 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 (although if you are saving to an online server this should not happen).

Final touches

Once you have finalised the content of your extended essay, it is time to make sure you gain all 4 marks for presentation. Ensure that your referencing is consistent and, although it does not have to be perfect, includes the key elements such as title, author and date published. The IBO publish a guide to effective citing and referencing that we recommend referring to. Also, make sure that you have included page numbers and a bibliography (if required). Similarly, make the layout justified, all the same font and size, as well as double spaced if space permits. Include a cover page with a title, your research question, word count and subject. Finally, ensure you have met with your supervisor one last time to fill out your viva voce (oral) section of the RPPF and take one last read of your EE checking for SPaG errors.


When you submit your extended essay onto IBIS, ensure that your name, your candidate number and your school’s name are not on the document. This ensures that your examiner will give you a fair mark based only on the content of your work. Your EE is electronically stamped when submitted so that the IB can track whose is whose, as is your RPPF, which should also be attached! Now all that is left to do is send your extended essay off!

We wish you the best of luck with your extended essay and hope, above all, that you enjoy the process. If you would like any help writing your extended essay, please do take a look at our summer courses or contact us for more information. We also offer IB subject tuition and UCAS application guidance and are more than happy to tailor our service to your needs and requirements!

Useful links:

IBO Introduction to the Extended Essay:

Alexander’s article on choosing an EE topic:

Extended Essay marking criteria:

Effective Citing and Referencing:

Featured EIB resources
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Timothy Hoffmann