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
EXTENDED ESSAY GUIDELINES
Mr. Crown's Advice Concerning Your Extended Essay
IN ORDER TO DO WELL ON THIS ASSIGNMENT YOU MUST READ THE EXTENDED ESSAY BOOKLET CAREFULLY. YOU ARE EXPECTED TO KNOW ALL OF THE IB GUIDELINES AND ASSESSMENT CRITERIA FOR YOUR ESSAY DETAILED IN THIS BOOKLET. IN PARTICULAR, EVERYONE MUST CAREFULLY READ PAGES 10-23 (GENERAL GUIDELINES AND GENERAL ASSESSMENT CRITERIA) AS WELL AS THE SUBJECT GUIDELINES AND ASSESSMENT CRITERIA FOR ESSAYS IN YOUR SPECIFIC SUBJECT AREA. FOLLOW THE BOOKLET CAREFULLY WHEN YOU WRITE YOUR ESSAY BECAUSE YOUR ADVISOR AND THE IB WILL REFER TO THE ASSESSMENT CRITERIA WHEN YOUR ESSAY IS GRADED.
Also, read and follow the guidelines below.
Title Page - Place the title ¼ of the way down from the top of the page. Remember that the title is not the same thing as your research question or topic. Think of an informative title which conveys the essence of your essay. In the bottom right corner of your paper include the following:
Extended Essay Final Draft
Advisor: Mr. or Ms.________
Word Count: ______________
Abstract - The abstract should be no more than 300 words. It must be written in 3rd person. The
abstract is a formal synopsis of your essay which explains the scope of your investigation and states the research question and conclusion. Include a word count for the abstract at the bottom of the page. The abstract comes directly after the table of contents.
Page Numbers – Page numbers must be included on each page except the title page. Use the “Insert” menu on Microsoft Word.
Table of Contents - The table of contents identifies each section of the paper (Abstract, Introduction, Body, Conclusion, Bibliography, Endnotes, Appendix, Illustrations, etc.) as well as topical subsections. Page numbers in the table of contents and the essay must match. Include section and subsection headings labeled in bold throughout the essay to guide the reader and identify the different sections of the essay.
Introduction - Introduce the topic and provide enough information about your topic in order to enable the reader to comprehend the significance of your research question. Each extended essay must have a research question. The research question is the central question you are trying to answer through your research and writing of the extended essay. This question, if properly composed, will enable you to maintain your focus on a topic of narrow and limited scope while also help you to maintain the purpose and orientation of your entire investigation. The research question must be clearly and precisely stated in the early part of your extended essay. It must be sharply focused so that it is susceptible to effective treatment within the 4000 word limit. Your extended essay will be assessed in part according to the extent to which the essay appropriately addresses and develops the specific research question. The reader will also evaluate your success in collecting information relevant to the research question. Include the research question in the introduction stated precisely and focused in such a way that it is susceptible to effective treatment within the 4000 word limit. Establish the significance of the research question and explain why it is worthy of study. You may also briefly discuss why your topic is of significance to you personally. At the end of the introduction state your thesis (or hypothesis for science). Clearly identify the research question and thesis as such. Briefly and concisely preview your body by providing a “game plan” for the rest of the paper. The game plan briefly explains how you intend to answer the research question and support the thesis, that is, how you propose to proceed in the body.
Thesis – This belongs in the introduction, preferably at the end. You must take a position, construct an argument based on evidence, and defend your thesis. The entire essay must be a response to your research question and a coherent, organized, structured, logical, critical, in-depth examination and defense of your thesis.
Body (Methods and Results for science) - The body will differ depending on your subject. However for all essays the body be evaluated based on 1) your approach to the research question, 2) your analysis and interpretation of evidence, including critical analysis and evaluation of sources, and 3) your own argument and evaluation of this argument. SEE PAGES 19-20 of the Extended Essay Booklet and the Assessment Criteria for details. You must convincingly answer the research question and argue for your thesis, presenting evidence to support your arguments. You must evaluate your sources and demonstrate an ability to think and write critically and analytically. You need to plan this section carefully so that you are able to present your arguments in an organized, structured, convincing body which is constructed upon evidence. Evidence includes historical evidence derived from primary and secondary historical sources, textual evidence from a work of literature, and scientific data and the results of experiments and research.
Conclusion - The conclusion must be clearly stated and relevant to the research question. It must also be consistent with the thesis and its explanation and development presented in the essay. Where appropriate the conclusion indicates unresolved questions and new questions that have emerged from your research. This is more than a summary. Review how you have demonstrably and convincingly supported your thesis and answered the research question. Concisely restate your key points and discuss the broader implications of the thesis. How have you satisfactorily answered the research question?
Illustrations, data, charts, graphs, etc. - If you plan to include these make sure they are labeled and listed in the table of contents, and make sure you discuss their significance and relevance in the text of the essay.
Appendix - Please note that IB readers are not required to read the appendix thoroughly, so all essential information must be in the body of your essay.
Documentation - You must include footnotes, endnotes, or parenthetical citations. You also must include a bibliography. Documentation must be completed with meticulous concern for accuracy. Use your Guide to Writing Research Papers or the online Chicago Style Guide and make sure everything is in the correct style and format. Avoid accusations of plagiarism by treating documentation with the seriousness it deserves. In the bibliography include only sources you have cited in the essay. You need at least 15 sources, five of which must be articles from scholarly journals. The bibliography must be alphabetical by the author’s last name. Literature essays need six sources and may use in-text citations. Good history essays will have 30 to 40 footnotes and 15 sources. All history essay footnotes must follow the Chicago Style Guide.
This draft must be typed double spaced in 12 pt. Font and be as close to 4000 words as possible without going over the limit. The 4000 words includes the Introduction, Body, Conclusion, and any quotations. It does not include the Abstract, Acknowledgements, Table of Contents, Illustrations, Bibliography, Footnotes, Endnotes, or Appendices. Use Times New Roman or Courier font or a similar font; nothing fancy, flashy, or difficult for the eyes. Use black ink.
The essay must look neat and not sloppy. Do not use run-on sentences and paragraphs that are too long and attempt to treat too many topics. Do not allow careless grammatical and spelling errors to lower your grade. Paragraphs must be topical, readable, and of reasonable length. The essay must be structured and organized logically with all arguments and analysis presented and developed in a systematic fashion and order. Use smooth transitions between paragraphs to link the paragraphs, arguments, and sections of your paper. Use a spelling checker and make sure several competent people proofread your essay.
Your extended essay must address each of the following questions.
What is your research question?
Why is the research question significant and worthy of study?
Why is the research question significant to you personally?
What is your thesis?
What is your game plan for the rest of the essay?
What is the background information needed in order to understand your research question and thesis?
What are the distinct elements of your thesis? How can the thesis be divided and broken down into parts?
What are the central arguments you will make to defend your thesis?
What are the topical subsections of your body? Outline each subsection of the body.
How does each subsection build upon the previous subsection and lead up to the next? How does each subsection contribute to your defense of your thesis?
What evidence will you present to support your arguments and thesis?
What are your key sources? How will you integrate the evaluation of your sources in the Body?
How will you integrate critical analysis into your Body?
How have you sufficiently answered the research question and defended your thesis?
What are the major strengths of your thesis and your analysis and defense of it in your essay?
What could you have done better in the essay? Evaluate your own work critically.
What are the new questions and unresolved questions which have arisen from your research and analysis?
Include only those sources you have cited in the essay.