IB Extended Essay: Refining Your Research Question

The International Baccalaureate (IB) Extended Essay is a significant independent research project that challenges students to explore a topic of personal interest in-depth. Central to the success of your Extended Essay is the formulation of a well-defined and focused research question. In this guide, we will delve into strategies for refining your research question to ensure it aligns with the requirements and objectives of the IB Extended Essay.

 Understanding the Significance of the Research Question:

1. Guiding Light:

   - The research question serves as the guiding light for your entire Extended Essay. It defines the scope and direction of your investigation.

2. Criterion A:

   - Criterion A of the Extended Essay assessment focuses specifically on the research question. It evaluates the extent to which the question is focused, appropriately complex, and relevant to the chosen subject.

3. Interdisciplinary Approach:

   - The IB encourages an interdisciplinary approach to the Extended Essay. A well-crafted research question allows you to explore connections between different subjects.

 Strategies for Refining Your Research Question:

1. Initial Exploration:

   - Begin with a broad area of interest. Explore various topics within that area to identify specific aspects that captivate your curiosity.

2. Background Research:

   - Conduct background research on potential topics. This will help you understand the existing literature and refine your focus based on gaps or areas requiring further exploration.

3. Identify Key Concepts:

   - Identify the key concepts or variables central to your area of interest. Clearly define these, as they will form the basis of your research question.

4. Narrowing Down:

   - Gradually narrow down your focus. Consider specific contexts, time periods, geographical locations, or particular aspects that intrigue you within the broader topic.

5. Avoid Ambiguity:

   - Ensure your research question is not ambiguous. It should be clear, concise, and specific. Avoid vague or overly broad questions that may lead to unfocused research.

6. Test for Complexity:

   - Test the complexity of your research question. It should be challenging enough to require in-depth analysis but not so complex that it becomes unwieldy within the word limit.

7. Applying SMART Criteria:

   - Ensure your research question aligns with the SMART criteria: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. This promotes clarity and feasibility.

8. Consider Interdisciplinarity:

   - If applicable, explore the potential for an interdisciplinary approach. Could your research question bridge multiple subjects, adding richness to your investigation?

9. Seek Feedback:

   - Share your refined research question with teachers, mentors, or peers. Constructive feedback can provide valuable insights and help you identify any potential weaknesses.

 Example: From Broad Interest to Refined Question

Broad Interest: 

Climate Change


Various aspects of climate change, including its impact on biodiversity, regional variations, and mitigation strategies.

Refined Focus: 

The impact of climate change on the biodiversity of coral reefs in the Pacific Ocean.

Research Question: 

To what extent does rising sea temperatures due to climate change contribute to the decline of coral biodiversity in the Pacific Ocean, and what are the potential mitigation strategies?

 Reflection and Reevaluation:

1. Regularly Reflect:

   - Throughout your research process, regularly reflect on the relevance and feasibility of your research question. Adjustments may be necessary as your understanding evolves.

2. Evaluate Available Resources:

   - Assess the availability of resources, including data, literature, and expertise related to your research question. Ensure you have access to the necessary tools for investigation.

3. Flexibility:

   - While a refined research question is crucial, be open to adjusting it if unforeseen challenges arise during your research. Flexibility is key to adapting to new insights.

 Conclusion: Crafting a Guiding Beacon

In the realm of the IB Extended Essay, the research question stands as a guiding beacon, illuminating the path toward a comprehensive and meaningful investigation. By following strategic steps to refine your question, you not only meet the assessment criteria but also lay the groundwork for an intellectually stimulating exploration of your chosen topic. Through careful consideration, feedback, and continuous reflection, you can craft a research question that not only meets the IB standards but also fuels your passion for inquiry and discovery.