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Extended Essay (IB): Choosing a subject and topic

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

Choosing a subject and topic

For your EE you have the freedom to focus on almost any topic and you will write your own question to answer.  However, your topic must fit into a single DP subject (unless you choose to write an interdisciplinary essay, such as a World Studies EE that covers a topic “of contemporary global significance” and is likely to encompass two subject areas).

Given the academic challenge and level expected of an EE, you are strongly advised to choose a subject that you are currently studying, preferably at Higher Level.

Before EE Seminar 1 you were asked to work through the Introduction to the IB Extended Essay Guide. This page contains all the information that was on that guide and more. Boxes that are new for this page are highlighted in orange (or green in the case of the Research Proposal Form).

Introduction to the Extended Essay

What is the Extended Essay?

  • Compulsory element of the core, along with TOK and CAS
  • Inquiry-based research project resulting in an essay of up to 4,000 words
  • Topic of your choice, but must be based in a DP subject* and meet subject-specific requirements
  • You are strongly encouraged to do your essay in one of your HL subjects


*It is possible, under certain circumstances, to combine two subjects and do a World Studies essay but we do not currently recommend this.

What do I need to do?

Your task before seminar 1 was to read through the Introduction to the Extended Essay LibGuide and use the information on it to come up with three suggestions of topics you might be interested in investigating for your EE. These can be very broad subject areas or more specific questions and may be from the same or different DP subjects. At least one (and preferably all) should be from one of your Higher Level subjects.


This guide is just to get your thinking started. At EE Seminar 1 (Friday November 27th, 2.15-3.45 in the Wilson Auditorium) you will be given an in-depth introduction to the Extended Essay, a handbook and access to our full online guide.

You need to come prepared with:

  • your laptop
  • headphones
  • some ideas

You are going to be spending nine months on your Extended Essay - it is very important to choose a topic that actually interests you, or it is going to be a very long nine months...

Good preparation is much more effective for finding inspiration than last minute panic!


CALVIN AND HOBBES © Watterson. Reprinted with permission of ANDREWS MCMEEL SYNDICATION.  All rights reserved.

How do I choose a subject?

Generating initial ideas:Thought bubble image

  1. Think about your interests outside the classroom then check whether they might fit into any IB subject areas.
  2. Think about your IB subjects, particularly your HL subjects. Which would (and wouldn't) you enjoy exploring in more depth?
  3. Make a list of the topics (for one or more different subject areas) that you have enjoyed in that subject area and a list of topics you haven’t covered but wish you had. You might want to chat to your teachers or have a look in your textbooks.
  4. Think about any career aspirations you might have, or any ideas for further study, and they could point you in a direction.

Now have a look at the Subject Group Overviews, below, to see what an EE in that group might involve. It is worth comparing a couple of different subject groups.

Subject Group Overviews

"An extended essay (EE) in studies in language and literature gives students an opportunity to undertake independent research into a topic of special interest to them within the subject. It is intended to promote advanced research and writing skills, intellectual discovery and creativity. The essay is open to students who are writing in a language that they would be capable of offering as a language A. It must be written in the language for which it is registered. Students must not submit a group 1 EE in their group 2 language. Studies in language and literature EEs are divided into three categories:

  • Category 1 Studies of one or more literary works originally written in the language in which the essay is presented.
  • Category 2 Studies of a literary work or works originally written in the language of the essay compared with one or more literary works originally written in another language. (The work originally written in another language may be studied in translation.)
  • Category 3 Studies in language based on one or more texts originally produced in the language in which the essay is presented.

Students and teachers must indicate at the point of upload which category of essay they are submitting."

From: IBO (2020) Extended Essay: Studies in language and literature

MFL Books"An extended essay (EE) in language acquisition or classical languages gives students the opportunity to pursue their interest in language.

Students working on a language acquisition EE must demonstrate an in-depth understanding of the language, culture and society or literature studied. This understanding must be shown in the form of:

  • an analysis of a cultural context or a specific text OR
  • an analysis of trends in the culture studied and the impact of a cultural change on the form or use of the language OR
  • an analysis and comparison of literary texts.

For those undertaking a classical Greek or Latin EE, the focus is on demonstrating an understanding of a relevant or significant aspect of the language, literature and civilization of ancient Greece or Rome."

From: IBO (2020) Extended Essay: Language acquisition including classical languages

Note that you may not do your EE in a language you are studying at ab initio level.

"An extended essay (EE) in individuals and societies is intended for students who are interested in undertaking research in an area of business management, economics, geography, global politics, history, ITGS, philosophy, psychology, social and cultural anthropology or world religions.

The individuals and societies EE is intended to encourage the systematic and critical study of:

  • human experience and behaviour
  • physical, economic and social environments
  • the history and development of social and cultural institutions.

Students’ choice of topic should enable them to recognize that the content and methodologies of the subjects are contestable and that their study requires critical thinking.

Students must have sufficient grounding in the subject under which they submit their essay: reading a textbook or consulting an encyclopedia while writing the EE will not compensate for a lack of proper background knowledge."

From: IBO (2020) Extended Essay: Individuals and societies

Note: The IB considers Environmental Systems and Societies EEs to be interdisciplinary, so materials for these can be found under the Interdisciplinary essays tab, above.

"An extended essay (EE) in the sciences gives students an opportunity to apply a range of skills while researching a topic of personal interest in the field. Students working on a science EE must demonstrate an in-depth analysis of the subject matter studied, be it biology, chemistry, computer science, design technology, physics or sports, exercise and health science. This understanding must be shown in the form of a research paper involving a wellformulated research question. Students should be advised that while there is overlap between the subjects, their study should reflect one specific science area. For example:

  • biology—dealing with living organisms and life processes
  • chemistry—dealing with the composition, characterization and transformation of substances

...The nature of the topic under investigation should be different for each subject area and students should be careful if they undertake essays that may blur the boundaries between two science subjects. For example, when studying the pH of a body of water, students may investigate the chemicals responsible for the observed pH (chemistry), or the effect of the pH on the biota (biology)."

From: IBO (2020) The Sciences: an introduction from Extended Essay: The sciences

Note: The IB considers Environmental Systems and Societies EEs to be interdisciplinary, so materials for these can be found under the Interdisciplinary essays tab, above.

 "Students must demonstrate an in-depth analysis of a question or problem that has a mathematical focus. This investigation might be, for example:

  • the applicability of mathematics to solve both real and abstract problems
  • the beauty of mathematics, as in, for instance, geometry or fractal theory
  • the elegance of mathematics in the proving of theorems as in, for example, number theory
  • the origin and subsequent development of a branch of mathematics over a period of time, measured in tens, hundreds or thousands of years
  • the links between different branches of mathematics, or the way that branch of mathematics has been born, or has flourished, as a result of technology.

Students should be advised on the importance of formulating logical and coherent reasons for selecting a particular topic for the EE, the need to identify a well-thought-out research question and the requirement to search for the mathematical problems that require a solution. Students must be advised that mathematical research is a long-term and open-ended exploration of a set of related mathematical problems that are based on personal observations. The answers to these problems connect to and build upon each other over time."

From: IBO (2020) Extended Essay: Mathematics

"An extended essay (EE) in the arts provides students with an opportunity to undertake an in-depth investigation into a topic of particular interest to them. Students working on an arts EE must demonstrate in-depth analysis of the subject matter studied, be it dance, film, music, theatre or visual arts. This understanding must be shown in the form of:

  • a coherent analysis and interpretation of their chosen area in relation to a posed research question
  • the testing and validation of the research and consideration of its effect on the practice of the investigated area of the arts
  • development and exploration in a disciplined and imaginative way of an area of study specifically appropriate to the curriculum area chosen
  • a link to a practical dimension.

Each subject area poses its own unique set of challenges. Therefore, the approach to the topic of investigation should reflect the particular methodology most appropriate to the arts subject being studied. Students should have logical and coherent reasons for selecting a particular topic for their essay, a well-thought out research question and an approach that allows them to develop a reasoned argument.

...While there may be overlap between the subjects in the arts and common approaches, the research topic must clearly relate to one specific arts area. If a student chooses a research area that blurs the boundaries between two arts subjects, they must ensure that their essay’s emphasis clearly lies within the arts subject for which they are submitting it. Crucially, the topic selected should reflect each student’s particular interest and enthusiasm within that subject area."

From: IBO (2020) Extended Essay: The arts

"An interdisciplinary extended essay (EE) gives students an opportunity to undertake an in-depth and independent investigation into a topic of their choice that considers the relationship between subjects and allows for meaningful connections to be made in relation to their chosen area of research.

For example, in literature and performance, students focus on the nature of the relationships that occur between a chosen text and its adaptation for performance; in world studies an issue of contemporary global significance is explored through the lenses of two subjects; and in environmental systems and societies the interaction and integration of natural environmental systems and human societies are explored

Students undertaking one of these options must demonstrate a solid understanding of their area of research, taking a fully integrated approach. This examination must be shown in the form of:

  • a coherently written and structured essay that effectively addresses an area of research, taking an interdisciplinary approach
  • bringing together concepts, methods and approaches from across different subjects
  • the development and exploration of an area of study specifically appropriate to the interdisciplinary choice

The most critical stage in preparing for the EE is the formulation of a logical and coherent rationale for selecting a particular topic for the extended essay, a topic that offers enough scope to provide material for a substantial essay, and the development of ideas around the topic and research question that examine existing views and argue against them."

From: IBO (2020) Interdisciplinary essays: an introduction from Extended Essay: Interdisciplinary essays

We do not recommend undertaking an EE in World Studies. If you choose to do so anyway, make sure that you consider very carefully whether your topic would fit the requirements of a single subject discipline instead. It can be challenging to juggle the requirements of two different subjects while undertaking a piece of academic research like this for the first time, particularly if you do not currently study one or both of the subjects.

Note that the Treatment of the Topic section of the Subject Guide for World Studies says that:

"It is expected that students will have a good grounding in at least one of the Diploma Programme subjects used in the EE.

If they are unfamiliar with a discipline used, they must access its syllabus so that they can identify the concepts, terminology and modes of thinking required for their EE. (Many IB syllabuses contain lists of key concepts.)"

This means that whether or not you are currently studying either or both of the subject areas your World Studies EE is based in  you will need to use DP Level concepts, terminology and modes of thinking appropriate to both subject areas.


Subject Specific Guidance

Use the links below to explore the Subject-Specific Guidance for your chosen subject. Note that it is very important to use the side navigation menu to make sure you have read ALL the relevant guidance (see example for Biology, below).

You MUST read the subject-specific guidance before completing your Supervisor Application Form, and reread it before completing your Research Proposal Form. You might find it helpful to take notes using the Using the Subject-Specific Guidelines table.

Print versions of all of these documents can be found in your EE Handbook, and electronic versions at the top right hand side of this page (follow links). If you wish to submit your handwritten version to ManageBac, you may upload a (legible!) photograph.

Ethical guidelines

You must address the IB ethical guidelines in your Research Proposal and follow them throughout the EE process. Some Subject Guides will contain specific ethical guidelines for that subject, but here are some general guides you might need to refer to:

Extended essays from previous years

Past essays

It can be really useful at this stage to look at essays from previous Oakham students, to see what kinds of topics they investigated and what their final essays looked like.

These may be looked at in the Library. Due to COVID restrictions we have moved them into the downstairs area by the wooden tree so that you can access them without leaving the F6 area.

Please remember:

  • You MUST sanitise your hands before and after you look at them (but please make sure your hands are dry before you touch them).
  • These are all the essays from past Oakhamians and they were awarded a range of grades (which are recorded on the contents pages). They are not a set of examples of 'good' essays or even 'good' titles.
  • There have been several rule changes in the past, most notably in 2018, so make sure you are aware of the current rules.

You may take photographs of individual pages (such as the contents pages). You may not photograph or photocopy whole essays.

How do I choose a topic?

Go back to your brainstormed list of topics:

  • Eliminate any that you don’t really want to write about and focus on the rest.
  • Use the ideas on the mind map below to examine these topics and decide which might be worth further exploration. You might choose to make a mind map like this for some of your topics.

Before deciding on a topic you should do some preliminary research to see what information is out there. Make a few brief notes as you go.

  • General internet browsing: You could begin with some freestyle internet searching on a broad topic that interests you. Search for your topic online, give yourself an hour to follow links and see where they take you – keeping an EE focus, of course!
  • Subscription Databases: While you will almost certainly search the databases extensively for your research once you have chosen a topic, you can also browse them to help you to chose one. See the 'Browsing our subscription databases' box below for advice on the best ones to choose for this. Using the subscription databases to help you to choose a topic also means that you are guaranteed to be able to find high quality information on that topic.
  • Talk to your teachers, friends and family

Put your notes away, forget about what you have read for a few days, then see what you remember.  This time and distance is important as it is likely that you will remember what is of most interest to you, and so the angle you should develop.

Before EE Seminar 1 you should aim to have three suggestions for topic areas you might like to explore for your EE.

Browsing our subscription databases

You are likely to have used our databases in the past to search for information on specific topics, but many of them are also excellent when browsing for ideas. I have made some suggestions below. You will need to access them from the list on our Subscription Databases page (using the log in information given if you are not on the school network).


Ideas Roadshow IB DP Portal

This video resource (with accompanying PDF e-books) is specifically designed for IB DP students. Featuring interviews with respected experts in a wide range of fields, it is a great place to start to spark ideas for your EE - and if your topic relates to one of the interviews, also a valuable starting point for your research. Choose 'Student EE/IA' from the top bar on the home page and explore.

The resource covers 21 DP subjects, with the only major exception being languages - only English is covered.


Oxford Very Short Introductions

An excellent series of ebooks providing a short, academic introduction to a wide range of topics. Choose 'Browse by subject' from the menu bar to explore them (or use the excellent search facility if you know which topic you are interested in).



An online encyclopaedia that you can trust and cite! Choose 'Advanced' then 'Explore: Articles' to browse Britannica in a range of different subject areas.


Philip Allan Reviews Magazine Archive

Although aimed at A-level students, browsing these magazines may be a good way to identify a broad topic of interest. You can either choose a title and then an issue (choose fairly recent issues to browse) or use the search facility - but be warned that the search facility is very poor and keep your searches simple.

Gale in context: Opposing viewpoints is good for looking at both sides of a debate. It contains text and video resources from newspapers, magazines, academic journals and websites, and is easy to browse by topic.

Other, subject-specific resources

  • Art: Oxford Art
  • Drama: Drama Online
  • Economics: Financial Times and Gale Newspaper Collection
  • English literature: Connell Guides, EBSCO Literary Reference Centre, emagazine and MASSOLIT (a video-based resource)
  • Music: Naxos Music Library, Oxford Music
  • Politics: Financial Times, Gale Newspaper Collection and MASSOLIT (a video-based resource)

Using the Subject Specific Guidelines

This table will help you work with the Subject-Specific Guidelines as you choose your topic. You are not required to submit this form to your supervisor, but you might find it helpful when filling in your Supervisor Application Form and Research Proposal.

Supervisor Application Form

Deadline for submission to Managebac:

Friday 4th December 2020 (10pm)

Make sure you have read the relevant subject-specific guidance before submitting your form.

Research Proposal Form

Deadline for submission to ManageBac:

Tuesday 19th January 2021 (10pm)

Make sure you have done some background reading around your topic, read any relevant ethical guidelines and reread the subject-specific guidance before submitting your form.

Now make an appointment with your supervisor for Spring Week 4 to discuss your proposal.

Annotated bibliography

This resource will help you to keep track of all the different sources you find. Once you start working with each source in more detail, you will also need a tool like the Investigative Journal to organise your notes.

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