Can Extended Essays with a Generic Topic Score Well or Do They Have to Be Quite Original?

As a seasoned writer and tutor, I’ve observed the profound influence that the choice of topic has on the success of IB Extended Essays. From my experience, students often ponder whether a generic topic can fare well or if originality is the key to acing the paper. According to general IB criteria, both have their merits, which I’ll explain in this discussion.

What Is an Extended Essay in the IB Curriculum?

An extended essay is a cornerstone of the IB Diploma, a comprehensive research project that gives students an opportunity to investigate their interests in depth. From my perspective, it’s a chance to showcase your analytical skills and intellectual rigor. This scholarly piece of approximately 4,000 words challenges students to engage in independent research to develop both their knowledge and their research skills.

So, what exactly does writing an Extended Essay involve? Let’s break it down:

  • Identifying a straightforward, precise question or hypothesis that defines the scope of the investigation.
  • Depending on the subject, a systematic search for information could involve studies, experiments, or literary analysis.
  • Critically evaluate and interpret the collected data or literary texts.
  • Constructing a coherent and logical argument that effectively addresses the research question.
  • Drawing insightful conclusions that reflect the research findings and their implications.

Why is the Extended Essay admired and feared in equal measure? Well, besides being a substantial writing project, it is your golden ticket to developing skills crucial for university-level research, including the ability to formulate arguments, engage in critical thinking, and manage a significant personal project.

The scoring of an extended essay hinges on several factors, including clarity, structure, and depth of analysis. A crucial and often confusing element is whether the choice between a generic or an original topic sways the grading scale. As I know, while originality is praised, the depth and execution of the essay hold substantial weight.

The Case for Generic Topics in Extended Essays

So, what makes a topic “generic”? In my many years as an IB writer, I’ve recognized that generic topics are those broadly acknowledged themes that have been thoroughly researched in academic circles. These topics are well-trodden paths rich with scholarly content and extensive resources. Here’s what typically makes a topic generic:

  • Broadly Recognized. These themes are familiar to most people within and outside the academic community.
  • Well-Researched. Numerous studies and papers have been conducted on them, leading to a wealth of information.
  • Resource-Rich. Due to their long study history, these topics have vast resources, making research more accessible.

For example, subjects like climate change, World War II, or the impacts of globalization are classic examples of generic topics. They offer multiple angles and vast information, making them less daunting for an Extended Essay.

generic extended essay topics

From my extensive experience, I’ve found that the accessibility of sources for generic topics provides a robust foundation for comprehensive subject matter research. This access is a double-edged sword. While it simplifies the research process, it demands that students gather and critically analyze a vast array of information to craft a compelling and insightful argument.

Moreover, a well-executed essay on a generic topic can score just as well as one with a more original theme. This scoring parity occurs because examiners look for depth of analysis, argumentation rigor, and synthesis sophistication rather than novelty alone. For example, an essay that researches a well-known topic like “The Economic Impacts of WWII” can stand out if the student presents a nuanced analysis that connects macroeconomic changes to microeconomic effects on individuals’ lives during and after the war.

Original Topics: A Gateway to Higher Scores?

An original topic might involve presenting a novel perspective on a well-known issue or considering a niche subject few have researched. These topics often invite students to showcase their creativity and innovation, challenging them to push conventional boundaries and contribute something unique to the academic discourse. Examples of original topics include examining the impact of quantum computing on modern cryptography or researching the influence of social media on traditional advertising techniques in emerging markets.

From my extensive experience mentoring IB students, I’ve observed that original topics frequently capture the interest of examiners and make your work stand out amidst other papers. Here’s why choosing an original topic could be your ticket to a higher score:

  • Engagement and Interest. Original topics inherently pique curiosity and engagement, not just from the readers but also from the writers themselves.
  • Showcasing Analytical Skills. These topics require you to apply complex analytical skills as you are not just reiterating known information but are often building new connections and frameworks.
  • Opportunity for Innovation. With less existing literature, original topics provide a canvas for innovation. They can lead to hypotheses or models that may later be crucial in academic or practical applications.
  • Potential for Depth. Original topics allow for depth rather than breadth. You investigate fewer aspects but in much more detail, often using interdisciplinary approaches.

From my experience, when an original topic has a solid theoretical foundation and a robust methodology, it captivates and convinces the examiners of its merit. The key to success lies in choosing an original topic and how you handle the challenges it presents. You must be thorough in your research, critical in your analysis, and clear in your presentation. Such essays stand out for their freshness, depth, and intellectual rigor, often leading to higher scores and a rewarding research experience.

Making Your Decision: Generic or Original EE Topics?

I’ve guided many students through this decision, and I understand its weight. From my experience, whether you opt for a generic or an original topic should hinge on several key factors that align with your academic strengths and interests.

Assess Your Interests and Strengths

In my opinion, your interest in a topic is crucial. Passion fuels perseverance, especially when you’re diving deep into a subject. If you’re naturally curious about a widely discussed issue, a generic topic might be more up your alley. However, an original topic could be more engaging if you’re always looking for something new to find.

Consider Resource Availability

According to general IB criteria, the availability of resources is critical. A generic topic often comes with abundant resources, making it easier to gather comprehensive information and support your arguments effectively. On the other hand, original themes might require more legwork to find sources, but scarcity can also mean less bias and a fresher perspective in your findings.

Evaluate Your Readiness for Challenges

From my experience, original topics come with challenges, primarily due to the limited studies or data. If you enjoy tackling challenges and can handle the uncertainty of researching uncharted territories, an original topic might suit you well. However, a generic topic might be safer if you prefer a more structured approach with precise expectations.

Reflect on the Scope of Critical Analysis

A critical component of the EE is your ability to engage critically with the topic. Generic topics might seem straightforward, but finding new angles and insights in well-trodden areas requires deep analytical skills. Original themes, while risky, provide a natural platform for critical thinking and innovation, often leading to more impressive analyses and conclusions.

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Generic vs. Original Topics: Scoring and Student Experiences

Throughout my years in the IB program, I have witnessed various approaches to generic and original topics in extended essays. For instance, one student chose the generic topic of global warming but narrowed her focus to its impact on the local coral reefs. Her essay stood out because of her meticulous data collection and in-depth local analysis, which earned her top marks.

Another example involved a student who researched an original topic concerning the psychological effects of language barriers on immigrants. This less common subject required more intensive primary research and interviews, yet the result was a highly insightful and original essay.

As I know from discussions with numerous IB educators and examiners, there is a consensus that the success of an extended essay largely hinges on the student’s approach to the topic. Generic topics may seem safer because abundant resources ensure students can build a solid evidence base. However, these essays must provide a unique angle or fresh insight into the topic to stand out to achieve high marks.

Conversely, original topics carry inherent risks due to the potential scarcity of resources and the need for a more significant amount of primary research. They often allow students to demonstrate innovation, creativity, and a strong personal engagement with the subject matter. Examiners appreciate essays that bring new ideas to the table and challenge conventional wisdom, provided they are backed by rigorous analysis and precise articulation.


Both of these paths lead to an excellent score on the Extended Essay. It’s not just about the originality of the topic but also how you frame your argument, analytical depth, and ability to engage with the material critically. So, choose a topic that matches your interests and strengths and bring your passion to it. After all, the best papers reflect genuine curiosity and a robust spirit of inquiry. In addition, our experts at are always ready to help with Extended Essays on any topic you choose.