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Extended Essay (IB): Developing a line of inquiry

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

FOSIL Cycle - WonderDeveloping a line of inquiry

Your line of inquiry will develop throughout the first part of your inquiry, starting with a vague unfocussed idea of which subject and topic you may be interested in, and ending up as a clear and focused research question which guides the rest of your inquiry and shapes your final essay.

Don't be tempted to fix your question too early - often it is only as you undertake your initial research that you begin to understand how to shape your question so that it is narrow enough to focus your inquiry but broad enough to allow a balanced discussion.

Connecting with your topic

If you haven't already worked through the Choosing a subject and topic tab, you should do that now. Connecting with your topic means both making sure you are familiar with the Subject-Specific Guidelines (and Ethical Guidelines, where appropriate) and developing a broad overview of your topic.

You cannot begin to seriously investigate your topic and to decide on your question until you have undertaken some significant background reading (print, online, or both). Don't forget to keep a note of what you are reading in your Annotated Bibliography - it's so frustrating when you remember that you came across a really good book or website during this 'browsing' stage, but you can't find it again!


One of the most important features of this 'getting to know your topic' stage, is developing a list of key terms that will help you to search for the resources you need. Most of the time, if you find yourself complaining that "there isn't any information on my topic" in a database of journals, or on the Library catalogue it is because you haven't developed a broad enough list of search terms. Equally, if you are finding too many resources but none of them is really focused enough on the topic you need, this will be because your search terms are too narrow.

This keywording resource will allow you to build your own set of keywords as you get to know your topic. This will save you a great deal of time in the long run as you will refine your search strategy and not find yourself doing the same searches over and over again. It will also help your supervisor and the Library staff to help you if you are struggling to find suitable resources.

Topic vs title vs research question in the EE

"A note on topic, title and research question

It is important that students understand the distinction between the terms topic, title and research question.

  • The topic of the extended essay is the subject, issue or theme that you are investigating within a specific DP subject or world studies area of study. The topic, which develops during the initial thinking about the EE, should later be reflected in the wording of the title.
  • The title of the EE is a clear, summative statement that specifically focuses the topic being researched. It appears on the title page. A title should:
    • be short, descriptive and succinct
    • not be phrased as a question
    • use key words that connect with the topic and the DP subject or world studies area of study
    • attract the interest of the reader.
  • The research question derives from the title and is expressed as a question that is intended to be answered through researching and writing the EE. It appears on the title page and could also be visible as a header throughout the essay. It should:
    • be clear and focused
    • provide a path through which you can undertake achievable research
    • use key words that connect with the topic, the title, and the DP subject or world studies area of study
    • support the development of an argument."

(From the IB Extended Essay Guide: Research and Writing Process)

Steps to developing a research question


Mind maps can be very useful tools for thinking with, from 'brainstorming' initial ideas to organising your research and developing your arguments. There are a number of free mind-mapping sites on the internet. Why not give one a try? Check back here in a few weeks for suggestions of suitable sites.

Researchers Reflection Space (RRS)

A Researcher's Reflection Space is simply a place where you keep a 'running commentary' of how your inquiry is going. In it for example, you might keep notes of how your question is evolving, interesting resources you have found and any notes you have made on them, your list of keywords, any questions you have for your supervisor or a member of Library staff, your inquiry timeline and how you are feeling about your inquiry at the moment. There is a dedicated space for this in ManageBac, but it is not compulsory to use that. You might prefer a physical notebook or folder or perhaps a OneNote document or Word document. It is helpful if you can share your RRS with your supervisor to help them to keep track of your progress. You will find more information about this in the Reflecting tab of this Subject LibGuide.

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