Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Extended Essay (IB): Expressing your ideas

To guide IB students through the Extended Essay process. New format for September 2020.


Expressing your ideas

This is the stage you have been building towards - writing your essay. On this page you will find guidance on:

As well as resource boxes at the side containing:

Am I ready?

Am I ready to start writing my essay?

Before you start writing, think:

  • Is my investigation largely complete? As you write you may find that you need a few additional resources or information to support your argument, but you should not start to write until you are largely sure where your argument is going.
  • Have I filled in a Research Organiser (see sidebar)? This will help you to organise your thoughts and make sure you understand the argument you intend to make and have the evidence to support it.
  • Do I understand the formal requirements of the EE (what sections I need, word limits, referencing and layout requirements)? It is significantly easier to set all this up correctly from the start than to try to correct it at the end.
  • Do I understand how to write in an appropriate academic style?
  • Do I know how to import my sources from my Investigative Journal? Don't waste time putting all your citation data in again! Import all your sources as you set up your EE document. There are helpsheets in the Resources for PC / Mac users boxes to the right and more help in IT Workshop 2.

You should use the Oakham APAv3 Academic Writing Template (below) rather than a generic Word template to set up your essay. Further guidance will be given in EE Seminar 3.

The document below is a model of how to lay out an Extended Essay, with notes to explain how it meets the formal requirements.

Referencing styles

Oakham School's 'house' referencing style is APA (version 6), which is an 'Author-date' style. Although the IB do not dictate which referencing style you should use, you are required to use a recognised style. We strongly recommend that you stick to APA as Library staff are unable to support you in citing and referencing accurately if you choose to use a different style. We do not support the use of footnote referencing styles.

The only deviation from this style is that the IB require you to add the "date accessed" for websites to show when you viewed the site (because information on websites can change). You can do this in Word by checking the "Show All Bibliography Fields" box when you add or edit a source and scrolling down to "Year/Month/Day Accessed"

Citing and referencing


For detailed information and guidance on how to use sources in your writing and how to cite and reference them accurately using the tools in Microsoft Word, consult the Citing and Referencing LibGuide. Note that this site includes IB specific guidance, such as how the IB require you to reference websites and interviews (which is slightly different to standard APA referencing) and what to do if you are using a source written in a language that is not the language of your essay.

Academic writing

Stages in an academic essay


Your thesis is the point you want to make. It emerges from your research and your task is to use the evidence you have found to establish it as the most reasonable response to that research.

Approaches to an academic essay
Persuasive (Argumentative) Analytical
A persuasive (or argumentative) approach proceeds from the answer to the research question through a detailed analysis of the arguments surrounding the research question — their claims, their evidence, and their assumptions.
An analytical approach arrives at the answer to the research question after a detailed analysis of the arguments surrounding the research question — their claims, their evidence, and their assumptions.
e.g.  Should smoking be illegal?
After stating the research question, this starts with a defendable position - the thesis -  which is then supported by arguments that persuade the reader of your point of view.  Using evidence you are defending your thesis in the essay.
e.g.  What conditions produce the highest yield of salicylic acid during hydrolysis?
This starts with a research question, which is then answered by your thesis in the conclusion of the essay.  Your essay presents the evidence that shows how you have arrived at your conclusion. 

In both approaches, you must state the research question in your introduction, and follow your Subject-specific guidelines carefully.

Sections required in your essay

Note: the rule changes for 2018 onwards state that an Abstract is no longer required. Given the strict word limit, examiners reports state that you SHOULD NOT INCLUDE AN ABSTRACT as it would now be included in the word limit and this reduces the number of words you have left to make your case.

Paragraph Structure

Paragraphs themselves have a structure - the most common you will have come across is likely to be PEEL. The letters often stand for slightly different things in different subjects, but the idea is largely the same - introduce your main idea for the paragraph (Point), justify it with Evidence and/or Examples, and Evaluate this evidence. Finally, Link back to the Research Question and/or Link forward to the next paragraph.

This is not the only way to write a paragraph and, with experience, you will soon find that your argument develops a flow of its own that does not require a formula - indeed, your essay would be very dull if every paragraph followed exactly the same structure. However, this structure can be a useful scaffold to get you started and make sure you don't miss anything important.

Paragraph structure


The structure of academic writing

Planning your essay

It is vital to plan your essay before you start writing. An essay plan provides an outline of your argument and how it develops.

Reread your EE Subject Guide. What MUST your essay include? Make a checklist to refer to throughout your essay.

  • Do you have to have a map or chart? Data? Primary and/or secondary sources?
  • Reread the assessment criteria, particularly Criterion D: Presentation. Are there any presentation requirements specific to your subject? Note that some subject guides say advise a section-subsection structure, some say it must be used and some say it is unusual in that subject area and a "continuous body of text" is normal. Make sure you know which is the case for your subject. Regardless of how whether or not you use subheadings for the main body of your essay (and in most subjects, you will), you should have a clear plan for the structure of your essay before you start writing, so...

What sections and subsections do you need?

Although this might change as you write your essay, you should not start writing until you have your overall structure. Then think about roughly how you are going to divide your word 4000 words between the different sections. 4000 words seems like a lot before you start writing, but it is much easier to write to the limit, section by section, than to try to cut your essay down once it is written.

What will the reader will expect to see and where?

Look back at your checklist and think about where in your essay you are planning to include the required information. Make sure the flow of your essay makes sense to a reader who may be a subject expert but knows little about your topic. Have you included background information? Details of experimental methods? Arguments and counter arguments?


Now get writing!

You've read all the guidance. You've made your plan. Now you have a blank screen in front of you and you just need to get started! Start with the section you think you will find easiest to write and work outwards from there, or follow the steps below to get started. Don't forget to write with the word limit in mind though.



undefinedReWriting: It's just not working!!

What if you are writing lots of paragraphs but your essay just doesn't seem to be coming together?

1. Condense each paragraph into a short statement or bullet point. This is the skeleton structure of your essay.

2. Look at the order of the statements.

  • Is the order logical?
  • Does each point follow another in a sensible order?
  • Do you need to change the order?
  • Do you need to add paragraphs?
  • Do you need to remove paragraphs?

3. Add, subtract and rearrange the paragraphs until your structure makes sense.

4. Redraft using your new paragraph order.  

Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

"Work on it. Work on it. When you think it’s good, it’s probably not. Just keep working. It’ll get better. All writing is re-writing. You never get it right; it’ll just get better. When you’ve gone through it many times and replaced the one word with another word, and then replaced that word with the same word again, you’re getting there."

Willard, D. (2003) My journey to and beyond tenure in a secular university. Retrieved from: Accessed: 9th May 2020

Oh no! It's too long!!

If you haven't managed to write to the word limit and are suddenly faced with cutting down an essay that is over the word limit, try these tips on concise writing from Purdue Online Writing Lab.

Use the menu on the left of this page from Purdue OWL to browse the four very practical pages on writing concisely and one on the Paramedic Method for reducing your word count.

Key presentation requirements for the EE

General requirements

Your essay MUST have:

  • "font, font size and spacing conducive to on-screen marking. [We recommend Arial 12pt, which was the previous IB recommendation.]
  • page numbering [In the Header or Footer]
  • no candidate, supervisor, or school name on the title page, page headers, appendices or acknowledgment pages
  • the file size must not be more than 10 MB. (Note that the RPPF is uploaded separately and is not part of the overall file size of the essay."

(IB EE Guide 2020, Presentation)

It is also suggested that:

  • You include a header containing your research question on every page to help you to maintain focus

Word count

You essay must have at most 4000 words. While there is no set penalty for exceeding this, examiners will stop reading at 4000 words, so may not, for example, read your conclusions and your mar is likely to suffer siginficantly. The following table summarises what is and is not included in the word count:


(IB EE Guide 2020, Presentation)

Note: The Guide states explicitly in several places that text in tables should be brief and tables should not be used to get around word limits. If the examiner feels you have put too much text into tables, then they will include it in your word count.

Illustrations (anything that isn't just text)

  • Must only be included if they relate directly to the text, are acknowledged where appropriate and help you to make your argument more effectively. It is not acceptable to include images just to make it look pretty!
  • Whether they are photographs, other images, graphs, tables, maps or charts, they must be clearly labelled with the minimum information required for the examiner to understand them. This labelling will not be included in the word count as long as it does not include any commentary.
  • We recommend that ll illustrations have brief captions with Figure/Table numbers to allow you to refer to them clearly in the text, and anything that is not entirely your own original work must be cited and referenced as you would for text.

Footnotes and endnotes

  • May be used for referencing (but we recommend you use APA, which is an in-text citation system and does not require footnotes. The Library will not provide any technical referencing support for any other system).
  • Otherwise the IB advises against using them to avoid confusion with word counts. The only exception to this is for quotations in languages other than the language of the essay. In this case you can provide a translation in the body of the essay with the quotation in the original language in the footnote. In this case it would not be included in the word count.


Since examiners will not read appendices, the IB suggests they should NOT be used, except in the following cases:

  • "an exemplar of a questionnaire or interview questions
  • an exemplar of permission letters
  • group 1, category 1 essays: copies of poems or short stories (of less than three pages)
  • group 1, category 3 essays: excerpts from newspapers, advertisements and transcripts of speeches
  • language acquisition, category 1 and 2: excerpts from newspapers, advertisements, transcripts of speeches, etc
  • language acquisition, category 3: excerpts or copies of poems or short stories (less than 3 pages)
  • an external mentor letter, where one has been used
  • raw data or statistical tables for experimental sciences (this should not include any analysis or conclusions)."

(IB EE Guide 2020, Presentation)

External sources and specimen materials

Examiners will not access any external resources (e.g. hyperlinks or DVDs), and you may not submit any specimen materials made during the EE (although you may include clearly labelled photographs of these in your EE).



The material in this section has been informed by:

Links to other tabs

Don't forget to review your subject specific guide before you start writing!

If you need some guidance about the difference between a Title, Topic and Research Question, look here.

Examples of EEs with mark schemes

Sample EEs in German Language and Literature A (not provided on site above)

NOTE: These were all written before the 2018 rule changes so contain structural features such as abstracts, which should no longer be used. The mark scheme has also changed substantially, so be careful how you use these.

Constructing your understanding from your information G4

Before you start to write your essay you need to understand the argument you are trying to make clearly, and that you know what information you are required to include. This resource has been carefully designed using Group 4 mark schemes to make sure that you address all the main points required. It may also be useful if you are writing in Groups 3 or 5. Complete it in note form once you are close to completing your investigation to help you to structure your final essay.

While this is not an official IB document, so is not compulsory, it is very strongly recommended and it will almost certainly make it much quicker and easier to write your essay if you complete this first.

Constructing your understanding from your information (not G4)

Before you start to write your essay you need to understand the argument you are trying to make clearly, and the evidence you are using to support it. This resource has been designed to help you to organise your ideas. Complete it in note form once you are close to completing your investigation to help you to structure your final essay.

While this is not an official IB document, so is not compulsory, it is very strongly recommended and it will almost certainly make it much quicker and easier to write your essay if you complete this first.

Normal term-time Library opening hours:
Mon-Fri: 08:30-21:15
Sat: 08:00-16:00
Sun: 14:00-18:00