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IB Extended Essay General Guide: Choosing a subject and a topic

A starting place for all Extended Essay students

How do I choose a 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 a World Studies EE that covers a topic “of contemporary global significance”, and is likely to encompass two subject areas. Students normally choose a subject that they are currently studying or have a background in. While this is not a requirement we do strongly recommend it.

Step 1: Generating ideas

Thought bubble imageStep 1:

Plan time that you will dedicate to choosing your topic.  It might take a few hours and if you plan for several sessions with time in between, you will have the chance to think about it.

Brainstorm your interests:

  • If you know what subject area you want to write about, make a list of the topics you have enjoyed in that subject area and a list of topics you haven’t covered but wish you had.
  • If you are not sure which subject area, you could:
    • Think about your interests outside the classroom then check whether they might fit into any IB subject areas.
    • Think about your IB subjects – it will probably be clear to you from your choice of HL subjects which of these would be good starting points.
    • Think about any career aspirations you might have, or any ideas for further study, and they could point you in a direction.

Read the subject-specific guidelines:

Read those for the subjects you are drawn to as they will give you an idea of the sort of essay you will write in that subject, and any restrictions there might be.

Step 2: Refining

Step 2:

Go back to your brainstormed list of topics, eliminate any that you don’t really want to write about and focus on the rest.

Consider your topics:

  • Personal interests – choose a topic that will keep you interested for a long period of time. The EE usually takes about 40 hours.
  • Help available – make sure there is a teacher in school who knows enough about your topic to supervise you.
  • Access to information – check how much has been written about your topic.  Are you going to be able to find the information you need to investigate it?
  • Achievability -  can you research and write about your topic in the time available and the word-limit? Remember it is 4000 words.
  • Personal opinions – be careful about choosing a topic you have strong personal feelings about as you may struggle to write a well-balanced, open-minded essay.
  • IB requirements – make sure your topic fits into one of the IB subject areas.  You would usually be advised to choose one of your HL subjects.
  • Ethics – check if there are any ethical considerations to take into account with your topic – there are IB guidelines to read.

Mind-map:

Try creating a mind-map, like the one below that covers these considerations and more.

Researcher’s Reflection Space

Using a RRS to keep a copy of this initial thinking will give you lots to talk about with your supervisor when you meet.  It will help with your first reflection too.  There is one in Managebac ready and waiting for you.  You can easily upload documents and images to the RRS or plan on paper if you prefer, or just use it as an online journal to record your thoughts.

Step 3: Background reading

Step 3:

Once you have an idea of a topic you are interested in exploring further, you need to start reading about it.

Initial research:

You could begin by some freestyle internet searching:

  • Search for your topic online, give yourself an hour to follow links and see where they take you – keeping an EE focus, of course! Make a few notes if you want to, but not too many.
  • 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.

Literature searching:

Have a look at what literature is available on your topic – the library is a good place to start – do some reading and start asking questions about what you read. Have a look at the Subject-Specific Libguides for some guidance on how to find print and online resources in your subject.

You’ll soon be ready for a research proposal (see right)!

Supervisor Application form

In order to be assigned a supervisor to guide you through the rest of the process, you need to fill in a Supervisor Application Form (SAF).

  • Make sure you have read the subject-specific guidelines before you attempt to fill in the SAF.
  • Upload your completed form to ManageBac by 29th November 2019.

This will enable Heads of Departments to assign supervisors by the end of the Winter Term. Contact Mr Russell (VR) if you think you are going to have a problem meeting this deadline.

Research Proposal

Once you have decided on your Subject, you need to refine your Topic.

  • Do some background reading to  help you to come up with a more focused Topic and line of inquiry so that you can get the most out of your first formal meeting with your supervisor.
  • Upload your competed Research Proposal to ManageBac by 12th January 2020 End of Spring Term Week 1).
  • Arrange a meeting with your supervisor for Spring Term Week 2.

‚ÄčContact your supervisor if you have any problems with this, or Mr Russell (VR) if you do not yet have a supervisor.

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


If you have any comments, corrections or additions for this guide, or if you are having trouble accessing any of the materials, please contact Mrs Toerien. Please include the URL of the LibGuide you are referring to in your email.