The 5-Step guide to writing perfect Essays in the IB DP

Written By : Ranjika B.

For most IB students, the IAs and Extended Essay are their first exposure to academic writing. Some of the things that many struggle with are the high word counts, citing and referencing, specific styles, formats and structure; and of course, the research process. In this blog post, I will go over the steps to writing a perfect paper. 


 Choose a focused and specific topic 

“The hardest part of any important task is getting started on it in the first place.” – Brian Tracy 

 The first step to writing a paper is to know what you are writing about. Unfortunately, the perfect topic will not pop into your head in your dreams while you sleep at night. To get an idea of what to write about, do some background reading (news articles, blog posts, academic papers, research reports, etc.) on the subject. Find out what interests you and what doesn’t. For example, you might find out that you are more interested in organic chemistry than any of the other sub-fields of chemistry.  

 Once you have an idea of the general area of research that interests you, narrow down on a focused and specific piece of research within that topic. Remind yourself of the scope of the assignment, frequently referencing the mark scheme and subject guides to inform yourself of the same. Narrow down the scope of your topic and frame it in terms of research question where required. Remember to be flexible, the topic can always change as you learn more information. This can happen due to many reasons – you learn new information that changes your original opinion, lack of reliable sources to refer to in your chosen topic or changes and developments in the subject that outlaw your original topic. 

 Begin the research process 

Once you have some idea of your topic, start researching specific information on that subject. Make sure you understand what research method you need to follow. Some assignments, like the Global Politics Engagement Activity or the Group 4 Lab Experiments require you to conduct primary research. You may want to start framing interview questions, securing the materials and lab equipment for your experiment or seek out subjects for your study. For secondary research based IAs and EES, start collecting all possible sources, keeping track of them in a separate document or as web bookmarks to reference later on in the writing process. 

 The hardest part of the research process is knowing when to stop researching and when to start writing. Out of sheer curiosity or cluelessness, you may want to keep researching and delay the writing process. There won’t be a voice in your head telling you to start writing, but you do have strict deadlines to meet. It is useful to remind yourself that you can continue researching even while writing. It is time to stop researching when –  

  •  You have a brief overview of the topic 
  • You have read sources from multiple perspectives 
  • You have collected, compiled and are ready to draw inferences (in the case of primary data) 

 Write a rough draft 

At this point, you will have a brief idea of the main argument that you want to make. You should start writing your paper. Each student has a different writing process, so do not be stressed if you discuss with your classmates and they already have a draft ready. You may want to start by creating a mind map or an outline to map the flow of the paper before you start writing. Get out a piece of paper, or open up your computer and start jotting down your ideas. Mind mapping is a good exercise to start with, as it shows you which parts of your though process flow well together and which ideas do not fit. However, some students prefer to start writing and edit the paper over multiple rounds. No matter which technique is suited to you, you should start writing a rough draft of your paper.  

 The introduction should have the main research question of the paper and give a rough overview of why this is a relevant topic to research, why it needs to be discussed and how you plan to answer the research question. Remember to re-write the introduction at the end of the writing process so as to better reflect what your paper is about. In the body paragraphs, provide different arguments and counterarguments. For Group 1,2 or 3 essays, you may want to use the PEEL Structure. 

 Point -> the claim that you are trying to make 

Evidence -> the evidence to support the claim 

Explanation -> explain how the evidence helps prove your claim 

Link -> link back to the main research question to maintain the flow of writing 

 For Group 4 or 5 essays, you will typically be using charts, graphs, experimental proofs and so on that you will be analysing and discussing. Make sure to include tables of your raw data in your paper. Process the data into graphs or equations as required. While writing your paper, make sure to explain why you have collected this data, what trends or links the graphs depict and make inferences which link back to your main research question. For example, a student doing a Mathematics Investigation may want look at the correlation between height and running speed. This data can be used to generate a scatter plot. When writing the discussion, the student should refer to the value of the correlation coefficient as well as the scatter plot to explain what trend is being observed, and what that means. 

 Finally, the conclusion should re-state the main argument, briefly sum up all the arguments and inferences presented so far and an evaluation of the strengths, limitations and further scope of the investigation. You may use the conclusions of each body paragraph and rephrase them to form your conclusion. Remember that the first draft will never be perfect, and at this stage your goal isn’t perfection, but it is to have a draft of your ideas which you can structure, polish and format later.  

 Edit, Edit, EDIT 

The hard part is now behind you. Read your draft, out loud if possible to check the flow. Make sure everything is concise and simply explained in very clear terms. Ensure that the arguments flow well together and are relevant to the main topic and research question. Complete multiple rounds of edits until you are happy with where everything has ended up. Do not be afraid to move around chunks of information to different paragraphs, where they fit better or eliminate unnecessary information. Finally, check for spelling and grammatical errors.  

 Citing and referencing 

The final step to writing a perfect research paper is to include citations wherever you have quoted, paraphrased or borrowed an idea from someone else, Use the same citation style throughout the paper and create an alphabetised list of references or a bibliography at the end of your paper. If you have diagrams, charts or tables, ensure that they are adequately labelled, numbered and linked to the relevant appendices (if applicable). 

 And you’re done! So get yourself a warm cup of tea or coffee, sit at your workspace and get to work on your essay! 

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