What is an Extended Essay?
The extended essay is a 4000 word long piece of self-directed research within the International Baccalaureate diploma programme. It is a highly independent study in which the student is tasked with going into considerable depth on a given topic which fits within the remit of the IB subject areas.
In essence, the extended essay is a transitionary work intended to prepare students for undergraduate study. Accordingly it is a more complex composition than others undertaken in Baccalaureate study. The idea is to gear students for the added level of depth and independence which university work requires.
So, we are dealing with a highly autonomous study task, in which the student must exercise much discipline and forethought if they are to succeed.
As a mandatory component of the Baccalaureate, the extended essay follows a much standardised format. Necessarily, it will include a cover page as well as an abstract (that is a brief summary of what the paper concludes and why). As a scholarly composition, the work will include a fully reference bibliography. This means you need to include academic citations and follow the appropriate conventions according to the referencing system prescribed. Depending on the specific topic, the essay may include illustrations, graphs, charts or other kinds of additional material and/or appendices.
Your essay needs to have a logical and lucid flow. This means that one section will lead logically and coherently to the next.
You will want to begin with an introduction, which extends to about a page or so. This section will introduce the topic being studied, providing a brief outline of what the essay intends to do, how and why. This is where you also set out the expectations which the rest of the essay will fulfil. The intention in this is that the reader understands where the essay is going and will therefore be able to navigate the following chapters with greater ease.
After the introduction comes the argument body. This is the meat of the essay, where the core substance is. Top marks will only come if you can master this body section. The way to do this is to move from paragraph to paragraph in a consistent fashion.
A good approach, here, is to use an inductive structure. This means starting with the broad, general and overarching then progressing to the specific, focused and intrinsic. Essentially your level of detail should be increasing as the essay continues, arriving at a final point of concise focus in the conclusion.
Each paragraph should probably contain a single key point, so as not to be overly crowded with ideas such that the principle objective or message is crowded out. At the same time, you need to ensure that you don’t spread right is too thinly across paragraphs, labouring the point and thus wasting valuable words on repetition. Here is a rule of thumb: any single sentence which can be deleted without fundamentally derailing the meaning of the essay is surplus to requirements. Get rid of it.
In terms of flow, the end of one paragraph really needs to set up the beginning of the next one. You should imagine each paragraph as fitting into the next one like jigsaw pieces, working finally to create a consistent overall picture.
Your conclusion, then, is the final piece of the puzzle. Usually you will reiterate your thesis statement, the summary outline of the research problem which you presented in the introduction. This is not simply a repetition, rather it is a consolidation. Here, you will explain how the expectations you set up in the introduction have finally been met. You will also want to reflect on the significance of this and potentially identify any problems you encountered or make suggestions for future research.
The extended essay will most likely be the longest piece of writing you have attempted at this stage in your scholarly career. At first, 4000 words will seem like an awful lot and you might be unsure as to how you can possibly compete such a task or how best to organise it. Do not be daunted. Just focus on one sentence at a time one paragraph after the next. Break the topic down into its constituents and only focus on the particulars which are immediately before you. Working in this gradual fashion, you will quickly begin to see a broader picture emerging in an organic way.
Appropriate Scope, Manageable Task
As a final piece of advice, it is worth noting that a large part of your success will depend upon selecting an appropriate research topic. You want to choose an item which allows for enough depth to sustain an extended piece of research, but also not something that is too complex really to address in any substantial way within 4000 words.
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