How to choose a research question for your IB extended essay

Table of Contents

The International Baccalaureate Extended Essay is a 4,000-word research project written by students to explore a topic of their interest in depth. It provides a unique opportunity for students to conduct independent research and gain valuable knowledge and research skills that will help them throughout further study. Due to the challenging and time consuming nature of the task, it is important that the chosen research question is suitable and effective in providing new insight into the topic.

The structure of the IB Extended Essay typically consists of an introduction, body, and conclusion. The main body of the essay will be made of up of five components; an overview of the research question, a review of existing literature, an exploration of key concepts, an analysis of data and evidence, and a conclusion. The aim of this guide is to help you choose an appropriate research question for your IB extended essay and provide guidance on how to write it successfully.

Research question in extended essay

Exploring your Interests

Choosing the right research question for an IB extended essay can be a daunting task. One way to start is to explore your own personal interests. It’s important to remember that any topic you select for your extended essay should relate to one of the subjects you plan on taking during your senior year.

Think about what you are passionate about, what activities you enjoy, or even courses you have studied in the past. Doing something you enjoy means that you’ll likely be more engaged with the research process and produce higher quality work. Start by making a list of topics that fascinate you and then hone in on one that you think might make an effective subject for your extended essay.

Once you come up with a few ideas that interest you, use online resources or textbooks to find out what research already exists in those fields. This will give you a better idea of how to narrow your focus and ask a relevant and meaningful research question.

  • Start by thinking about what you are passionate about, what activities you enjoy, or courses you have studied in the past.
  • Make a list of topics that fascinate you and narrow in on one for your extended essay.
  • Research what has been done in the field and refine your idea further.

Answering these questions should help to guide you towards an appropriate research question for your IB extended essay. Once you think you have an idea of what you want to do, it’s a good idea to speak to your teacher advisor who can provide you with expert advice on refining your research question.

Conducting Background Research

When you are beginning your Extended Essay (EE) journey, the most important thing to do first is research. As the main goal of this essay is to explore a research question, it is essential to understand what has already been written on the topic to establish a strong background for your own investigation. This will help you refine and develop your own unique research question and present relevant evidence in your EE.

Before you start researching your question you should try to identify what the existing literature is saying. This will provide you with valuable insight into the topic, enabling you to build upon the foundations that have already been laid. Take the time to browse relevant journals, articles, books and other sources related to your subject. You may even find yourself exploring non-academic resources such as interviews and documentaries, which can also be useful.

Furthermore, it is crucial to identify any potential biases or trends in previous research in order to recognize any potential weaknesses or limitations in the literature. This will help you plan your own approach when writing the EE and make sure that the conclusions you draw are well supported. Additionally, it is important to remember that the EE requires you to use reliable sources for your research. Once you have identified these sources, you should note down all of your references so that you can use them later.

In conclusion, researching existing literature on your EE topic is a fundamental step in the research process. It is crucial to explore the background of your chosen subject in order to refine your research question and gain an understanding of what has already been said about the topic. Additionally, paying attention to potential biases or trends in the literature will be helpful when developing your own approach to the extended essay.

Generating Ideas

Choosing the right research topic for your IB Extended Essay (EE) can be quite a daunting task. Generating ideas is the best way to get started. Brainstorming potential topics is a great way to find the perfect research question for your EE.

Start by reviewing the syllabus of your chosen subject and jotting down any ideas that spring to mind. It’s important to keep an open mind as you look through the syllabus, and consider any scientific, cultural or economic aspects which might be relevant to your topic.

Your teacher may also be a great source of inspiration. Ask them if they have any thoughts on potential topics, or suggest topics to them which you have already come up with.

If you’re stuck, try looking outside the syllabus! Separate yourself from any preconceived notions you may have of your subject and look towards other branches of knowledge which may intersect with it. For example, if you are studying physics you could consider looking at scientific articles related to sociology or psychology.

You should also consider reading any books or journals which discuss innovative topics in your subject area. It’s essential to keep an open mind and think outside the box when it comes to generating ideas.

Creating a mind map is also great way to generate ideas. Write down any thoughts which spring to mind and draw arrows between related topics to create an organized visual representation of your thoughts.

Finally, use the internet to your advantage. Search for any scientific papers or blogs that discuss topics related to your subject area. You may even find a unique research idea by exploring online discussions related to the subject.

Generating ideas upfront will help you determine the right research question for your IB EE. Don’t be afraid to get creative and explore all your options!

Narrowing Down the Topic: Advice for Narrowing the Focus of Your Research

Choosing your IB extended essay research question is not as easy as it sounds. Even after you have identified an area of interest and conducted background research, you may still be left with a broad topic.

To make sure that your topic is suitable for an extended essay, you need to narrow it down. Narrowing down your topic can help your research focus in on a particular aspect of your subject and enable you to create a focused and effective research paper.

Here are some of our tips for narrowing down your chosen topic:

  • Consider the scope of the paper. Is your chosen topic too broad or too narrow? If the scope is too narrow, expand it using the research you collected during the initial exploration stage.
  • Evaluate the sources available. Are there enough reliable sources available to support your chosen research topic? If not, you may need to narrow or change your topic.
  • Research existing literature on your topic. What topics have been covered in existing literature? Can you use this research to identify a gap in the current understanding that you could address in your paper?
  • Think about the direction of the paper. Does your topic suggest an argument or conclusion? What further research can be done on the topic?

By following these steps, you should be able to narrow your research topic and come up with a research question that is suitable for your IB extended essay. Good luck!

Understanding existing research questions

When choosing a research question for your IB extended essay, it is important to understand existing research questions that have been explored by other academics in the field. By reading existing research papers or articles, you can narrow down your focus and gain a better understanding of the current studies exploring similar topics.

Start by searching for relevant scholarly sources that have already conducted research on your proposed topic. Look at what questions previous researchers have asked and what methods they used. Pay attention to the results that were discussed as well as any potential limitations to the study. Such information will be vital when constructing your own research question.

When reading through the literature, try to identify gaps in the existing research. If there are certain topics that have not been studied yet then this can provide further inspiration for your own research question. These gaps could also be used to create hypotheses for your project in order to explore new ideas. Remember to always double check that no one has asked the same question(s) yet before continuing with your project.

It is essential to understand existing research questions as this will ensure that you are not asking the same question that has already been answered or repeating any work. Instead, you can use the knowledge gained from these resources to build upon or divert away from the existing research.

Construct a Research Question

Once you have researched other people’s research questions and understand the research already conducted in the area, it is time to start constructing your own research question. A research question acts as your paper’s foundation and allows you to delve into the subject more deeply.

A good research question should be:

  • Focused – Ask an answerable question.
  • Explorable – Make sure there is enough information available for you to explore.
  • Relevant – Ensure your topic fits within the scope of your extended essay.

Now that you know what makes a good research question, how do you use the knowledge from step 6 to construct your own? Here are some tips:

  • Combine your interests with the topics and questions of the existing research.
  • Keep your research question broad enough to provide a comprehensive overview but still focused enough to explore the topic in-depth.
  • Use words like “analyse”, “investigate” and “compare” to open it up to more possibility.
  • Be sure to check if your university or supervisor has specific guidelines on constructing your research question.

It can take some time to construct the perfect research question, however with the help of this guide, it shouldn’t be too difficult. Doing research prior to crafting your question will ultimately save you time and effort, so don’t be afraid to really dive into the literature and explore different possibilities.

Choosing a Research Question

Choosing the right research question is an important part of writing an IB extended essay. To determine whether the question you have selected is adequate for the essay, there are several criteria to consider.

Is the Topic Relevant?

First, make sure your chosen topic is relevant to the subject of the essay. This means it should be something that directly contributes to your understanding of the field and allows for in-depth exploration.

Is the Research Question Clear?

The next criterion to consider is clarity. Your research question should be specific and focused on the key points of your essay. It should also answer a problem or debate in the field of study.

Will You Be Able to Defend Your Argument?

Your research question should also enable you to create an argument and defend it. You should be able to provide evidence to prove or disprove your argument.

Does it Follow the Guidelines?

Finally, make sure your research question follows the guidelines set out by the IB organization. This includes topics that are too restricted, too general, too long, and ones that don’t focus on identifying and evaluating evidence.

By using these criteria to assess your chosen research question, you can ensure that it is suitable for your IB extended essay.


When researching and generating ideas for an IB extended essay, it is important to keep track of information you find during your research. One way to do so, is to document the sources of information you are using in your work. This is known as referencing, and it helps to show the reader where the information you use came from.

When researching topics for your essay, make sure to take note of the different sources of information. This will help you to create a list of references that you can use when writing your essay. The reference list should include details such as the authors’ names, dates of publication, and the titles of the works you have read.

When creating your list of references, make sure to use the same format for all of them. This will make your essay look professional and make it easier for readers to access the sources you used. Common formats for referencing sources include:

  • Chicago Style
  • Harvard Referencing
  • MLA (Modern Language Association)
  • APA (American Psychological Association)

You may also want to consider providing a link to your sources either in the reference list or within the essay itself. This will allow readers to quickly access the information you cited and view the original source material.

By keeping track of your sources using an organized reference list, your essay will look professional and will demonstrate to the reader that you have done thorough research on the topic. Your references will also give other researchers looking at your work a place to begin their research if they would like to explore the topic further.

Research Planning to Start Your Extended Essay

Now that you have chosen a great research question for your IB Extended Essay, it’s time to start planning the essay. Planning is an essential part of any successful extended essay, so it’s important to begin this process early.

The first step in the research planning process is to create an outline. Outlines help you plan each section of your essay, from introductions to conclusions. They are like a map of the essay, and will give you a stronger understanding of how the essay should be structured. An outline should include an introduction, a thesis statement, an argument, and a conclusion.

Once you have an outline, it’s time to begin your research. Research is a necessary part of any extended essay, as it allows you to support your arguments with evidence from the field. Conduct research via books, journals, websites, and interviews to gather the necessary evidence. As you research, make sure to keep track of the sources you use so you can cite them in your essay.

Finally, as you continue with your research and writing, remember to take detailed notes. Notes will help you to stay organized and will ensure that you don’t forget any important details. And lastly, writing down your thoughts and ideas can help you to narrow your focus and build on your argument.

With careful research planning, you are well on your way to creating a successful extended essay. Good luck!


Congratulations! You are now closer to starting your IB extended essay. By following the steps outlined in this guide, you have a solid foundation to begin your research on an engaging and interesting research question.

To summarise, the key points discussed throughout this article are:

  • Exploring interests and understanding of the subject are important for guiding an appropriate research question.
  • Researching previous literature generates ideas and helps focus the topic.
  • It is important to understand the existing research questions of other academics in the field.
  • Constructing a good research question involves considering relevant criteria.
  • Research planning should be done before commencing the extended essay.

We wish you the best of luck with your research journey; we hope that by reading this guide you have gained the confidence to make well-informed decisions when choosing a suitable research question for your IB extended essay.


Now that you have decided on a research question for your IB extended essay, we invite you to take some time and review this article. We hope that it has been a helpful guide for you in understanding the importance of choosing an appropriate research question and how to go about it.

We value your feedback and welcome any constructive criticism, comments or suggestions that you may have. Your feedback helps us create more informative content that is tailored to your needs. So please let us know what you think by commenting below or getting in touch via our contact page.

Thanks for reading! We wish you all the best with your extended essay.

Nick Radlinsky

Nick Radlinsky

Nick Radlinsky is a devoted educator, marketing specialist, and management expert with more than 15 years of experience in the education sector. After obtaining his business degree in 2016, Nick embarked on a quest to achieve his PhD, driven by his commitment to enhancing education for students worldwide. His vast experience, starting in 2008, has established him as a reputable authority in the field.

Nick's article, featured in Routledge's "Entrepreneurship in Central and Eastern Europe: Development through Internationalization," highlights his sharp insights and unwavering dedication to advancing the educational landscape. Inspired by his personal motto, "Make education better," Nick's mission is to streamline students' lives and foster efficient learning. His inventive ideas and leadership have contributed to the transformation of numerous educational experiences, distinguishing him as a true innovator in his field.

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