How to Create a Research Question for Your IB Extended Essay?

ib research question

As an IB writer and tutor, I’ve seen how the right research question sets the stage for a compelling IB Extended Essay. This central element guides your investigation, sharpens your focus, and frames your findings. In this article, I’ll share insights from my experience and equip you with the tools to formulate a powerful research question that anchors your Extended Essay.

What Is a Research Question in the IB Extended Essay?

In the IB Extended Essay writing, the research question is your guiding light, the inquiry you seek to answer through your detailed investigation. It is the focal point around which your entire paper revolves, and it should be specific, focused, and feasible within the scope of the IB criteria. As someone who has guided many students through the intricacies of the IB Extended Essay, I can tell you from experience that a well-formulated research question is a challenge that should drive your investigation.

A well-formulated research question sets the tone for your research and writing. It directs your literature search and influences how you organize your data and findings. In my opinion, this isn’t just about finding an answer; it’s about framing that answer in a way that contributes something valuable and unique to your field of study. Here’s what a perfect research question should achieve:

  • Clarity. It should be clearly and precisely articulated, leaving no ambiguity about what you aim to investigate.
  • Focus. It should be narrowly tailored to allow thorough investigation within the Extended Essay’s word count limits.
  • Feasibility. It should be achievable within the resources and time available, including access to necessary data or sources.
  • Complexity. It should not be answerable with a simple “yes” or “no” but rather encourage more profound analysis and discussion.
  • Originality. It should offer a fresh perspective or approach to the topic, even if it is not entirely new.

From my perspective, developing a strong research question also involves understanding the existing research and clearly defining what you want to achieve with your essay. According to general IB criteria, the question should lead to a systematic investigation contributing to your chosen topic’s scholarly discussion.

Choosing the Right Topic for Your Extended Essay

Choosing the right topic for your Extended Essay is foundational to your success in the IB program. The topic sets the stage for a compelling research question and determines how engaging and manageable your research process will be. As I often advise my students, selecting a topic that resonates with their interests is crucial. This is because you will dedicate significant time and effort to investigating this topic. Your passion for the subject will be an essential motivator, helping you to sustain momentum throughout the challenging research and writing phases.

While choosing a topic you’re passionate about is essential, practical considerations cannot be overlooked. Your topic must be viable, which means it needs to be sufficiently broad to allow for in-depth research yet narrow enough to be effectively managed within the constraints of a 4,000-word essay. Here are some additional points to consider:

  • Ensure that there are enough resources available to support thorough research. A good topic will have a rich body of literature you can draw upon.
  • Choose a topic that allows for original thinking and interpretation. While it is easier to write on well-trodden paths, the ability to offer new insights into the subject sets your essay apart.
  • The topic should allow you to demonstrate critical thinking, analytical skills, and an understanding of the academic conventions of your chosen subject area.
  • Consider whether you have access to experts or mentors who can provide guidance and feedback on your research.

From my experience and considering high-score Extended Essay examples, students who choose a topic that balances personal interest with practical feasibility tend to produce more insightful and academically rigorous essays. This approach makes the research process more enjoyable and enhances the overall quality of the final essay, positioning students for a higher score.

how to create a research question for your ib extended essay

Steps to Create a Research Question for IB Extended Essay

As a seasoned IB writer, I’ll help you formulate an effective research question to lay a solid foundation for your Extended Essay.

1. Identify Your Interests

Start by reflecting on your academic interests and passions. What subjects captivate you? Which topics spark your curiosity? Choosing a field that you are genuinely interested in will sustain your motivation throughout the research process.

2. Conduct Preliminary Research

Before formulating a research question, you must broadly understand your chosen topic. Dig into preliminary research to consider major themes, recent studies, and ongoing debates in the field. This step will help you narrow down your focus and identify gaps in existing research that you address.

3. Define the Scope

Once you have a general idea of your topic area, define the scope of your research question. It should be narrow enough to allow for deep analysis within the 4,000-word limit of the Extended Essay but broad enough to ensure that you will gather sufficient data and resources.

4. Formulate the Question

Craft your research question. Ensure that it is clear, concise, and specific. The question should invite critical thinking and require analysis rather than mere description. It should also align with the methodologies and academic standards of the subject area you are investigating.

6. Refine and Evaluate

Review and refine your research question. Ask yourself if the question is feasible within your time and resource constraints. Seek feedback from teachers, mentors, or peers, and be open to revising your question based on the insights you receive.

7. Finalize Your Research Question

Once you have refined your question and received feedback, finalize it. Ensure that it meets all the criteria for a good research question regarding clarity, focus, and researchability. This final version should guide your research and writing process, leading you to a structured and compelling Extended Essay.

Common Pitfalls to Avoid in Creating EE Research Questions

One typical mistake is formulating a research question that is either too broad or too narrow. A broad question can overwhelm you with too much information, leading to a superficial analysis that doesn’t dig deeply into any particular aspect. On the other hand, a question that is too narrow might not provide enough scope for meaningful discussion or analysis, making it challenging to produce a substantial essay.

Another issue arises when students select a topic for which resources are scarce. This lack of available information severely limits your ability to conduct thorough research, leading to weak arguments and underdeveloped conclusions. It’s crucial to ensure sufficient material to support your essay before committing to a research question.

Students often choose research questions that lead to descriptive rather than analytical essays. Such questions might ask for a summary of events or a description of a phenomenon without requiring critical analysis or evaluation. These questions fail to meet the IB’s criteria for an Extended Essay, emphasizing the importance of analytical skills and a deep understanding of the topic.

Choosing a highly subjective question can also be problematic. While engaging with your topic is essential, an overly subjective question might lead to biased research and conclusions. It detracts from the objectivity expected in academic research, potentially influencing the examiner’s assessment of your work.

Another pitfall involves neglecting the specific IB criteria for the Extended Essay. It’s crucial to align your research question with the IB’s expectations, including demonstrating analytical and evaluative skills concerning a well-defined question or hypothesis. A question that doesn’t align well with these criteria may result in a lower score, regardless of the effort put into the essay.

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IB Extended Essay Research Questions: Examples

Here are some examples of well-formulated IB Extended Essay research questions across various disciplines, demonstrating how they are specifically tailored to encourage detailed study and critical analysis:

  • Biology. “How does the introduction of non-native plant species affect the biodiversity of insect populations in rural Wales?”
  • Economics. “What has been the economic impact of Brexit on small businesses in the northern regions of the UK?”
  • English Literature. “How does J.R.R. Tolkien’s deployment of myth in ‘The Lord of the Rings’ reflect post-World War II British cultural attitudes?”
  • History. “What were the primary causes of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and what role did diplomatic communication play in resolving the conflict?”
  • Physics. “How does the temperature variation affect the elasticity of rubber in household materials?”
  • Psychology. “How does sleep deprivation affect short-term memory among teenagers in a controlled environment?”
  • Visual Arts. “How have modern digital technologies influenced traditional portrait painting techniques?”

These questions elicit a detailed investigation into a specific subject area, encouraging students to engage deeply with their topics and employ a range of research methodologies. By carefully formulating a focused, insightful research question, IB students lay a solid foundation for their Extended Essay.


The strength of your research question determines the success of your IB Extended Essay. Take this assignment seriously and lay a solid foundation for an excellent research project. Happy writing, and remember that our experts from IB Writing Service are always ready to help you with Extended Essays.