How to write the perfect EE question

Travis DixonExtended Essay

Most advice on EE research questions breaks my heart - here's why.

With so much riding on the EE question itself, it’s important to get it right. But I often disagree with a lot of advice offered on EE questions, so here’s my advice for writing the perfect EE question. 

The best EE questions are clear and focused. It’s important to have a focused EE research question because it’s stated in the rubric (see below). This is why whenever someone asks about a research question the advice is always “it’s too broad. Make it more focused.”

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However, it’s impossible for students to begin their research process with a specific, focused essay question. Why? Because you can’t ask questions about something you know nothing about. Therefore, if the EE is a genuine inquiry into a subject the students don’t already know about (which it should be), then the question can’t begin by being broad. It should then be a living thing that is continually evolving throughout the process.

This is why in this blog post my answer to the question, “is this a good EE question?” is inevitably, “it depends!”

Teachers sometimes even offer specific research questions for a kid to ask. This breaks my heart. It’s not us as teachers who should be assigning the research question because then the kid’s EE will become a summary of the topic we already knew about, rather than a product of their genuine research.

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My Advice for Students

Start broad then focus: Start as broad  as you like. But remember that the more you find out about your topic the more specific your question should become. Your question becomes the title of your essay rather than the thing you’ve had since the very beginning.

Make sure your regularly check in with your EE supervisor and keep them informed of how your research and the question is developing.

The key to the perfect EE research question is to start broad and continually adjust your RQ so it becomes as focused as possible. It might not be just four steps – you could end up with lots of variations of your RQ until you get the right one!

My Advice for Teachers

Let your students begin with a broad topic. They might not even have a question to begin with at all. Allow them to explore something that interests them but encourage them to craft and hone their EE RQ as the process unfolds. The more work they do, the better their research question will become.

Setting regular check-points can help to keep them focused and for you to check how their research and their question is progressing.

Spoon-feeding ways for students to narrow their RQ results in them inevitably researching what we know about, rather than what they’ve learned about.

Finally, avoid the temptation to give the question to the students or to tell them what to write about. This removes the inquiry from the EE process and it becomes a task instead of a journey. You might be worried because you have a kid who does no work and writes a generalized EE about a general topic. That’s fine because that’s as far as they got in the process.

A good question to ask other teachers is “is this about psychology?” I think that’s a fine question to ask. But I would try to refrain from asking for suggesting about specific RQs. Why? Because it’s so subjective. What’s narrow and focused to one person might not be to another. Also, the only way the kid can narrow their research question is if they learn some more about the topic and it goes in a new direction. Offering them advice on how to narrow their RQ results in them inevitably researching what we know about, rather than what they’ve learned about.

The Rubric

As you can see, it’s important that you eventually have a research question that’s clear and focused because it’s an important part of the rubric. It also allows you to write a more nuanced and logical essay.