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How to efficiently write the Extended Essay?

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A brief of the Extended Essay

If you’re reading this article, it means that you were in the same situation that I was in when I began to write my extended essay; confused and stressed. Nevertheless, a lot of help and guides helped me get through to writing a great Physics Extended Essay. Although, before reading about the extended essay, take a read as to what the IB board is about.

Why should you read this blog? It is because I had written a Physics Extended Essay for the November 2020 examination and got a B grade. However, I was only a mark away from getting the most-wanted A grade. Before delving into the tips and tricks on how to write your EE, let’s understand what exactly an Extended Essay is. 

An EE is practically a mini thesis that happens to be a core component of the IB board. You will have to choose a research question as your topic, conduct an extensive research about what you’re writing about and finally write a 4000-word essay about your findings. 4000 may seem like a big number, but not to worry. Most of the successful essays come close to this limit. 

The very broken-down and basic layout is:

  • Title Page
  • Contents Page
  • Introduction
  • Body of the Essay
  • Conclusion
  • References/ Bibliography
  • Appendix 

Additionally, you will also need to fill out an EE reflection form throughout the process of completing your extended essay. You will have 3 interactions with your teacher called reflection sessions. The purpose of these meetings is to provide the students a way to reflect on their engagement with the research process. The final reflection session will be a Viva Voce which is a 10-15 minute interview session between you and your advisor about your Extended Essay – research essay. 

Now that a brief has been given about everything you need to know beforehand, we’ll be getting into the depths of knowing what it is that you write in a science EE.

Picking and drafting a research topic 

Keep in mind that the ocean is the amount of possibilities you have to pick a topic. You have a lot of freedom especially when it comes to picking a topic. You begin with choosing a subject that greatly interests you and progress from there.

If you are not a fan of the topic, you will not be able to write a very compelling essay because it would show how passionate you are about what you are writing. Think about what classes you enjoy and most importantly why. The quality of the work you produce will in turn determine your grade. Start brainstorming possible ideas for your EE as soon as possible. If you can’t seem to reach a conclusion, pick a topic that will help you in the future in terms of your UG degree or your career. 

A tip that I learned would be to make your topic not too broad or too specific. I’ll tell you why. If your topic happens to be too broad, then you would end up writing a book. If it’s too narrow, you will not be able to reach your limit given the limits you made in your research question. However, your research question will have to clearly explain to the reader what it is that you are exploring in this essay. You do not need to worry about this in the beginning since you tend to keep changing it depending on how your research process goes – at least, that’s what I ended up doing. 

Also remember that it is stereotypical to think that your topic needs to be super complicated to write a perfect essay. Believe it or not, the way you write or present your EE is just as important as the content you provide. Additionally, make sure that your experiment is doable and safe enough to carry out in the school laboratory. I’ll give you an example of what a topic should look like:

EE RQ: To what extent are the G force and centripetal force experienced in clothoid loops vary by changing the radius of curvature and pitch of the loop?

Same EE RQ that is too broad: To what extent do the forces in a roller coaster loop vary by changing certain factors in the loop?

This topic is too wide as there are a lot of forces that are experienced by the rider and the coaster itself on a roller coaster ride. In addition, there are multiple types of roller coaster loops that you could experiment with. If you see where I’m going with this, you can tell that there is too much uncertainty in the research question, therefore leading to very minimal understanding as to what the extended essay is going to be about

Make sure your clear and focused research question is an answer to these questions:

  • Will the reader understand the nature of my research and what I’m trying to do?
  • Is the RQ specific enough to allow for exploration with the given number of words and time available?
  • Does the RQ give me enough freedom for an analysis, evaluation and development of a reasoned argument?

Any IB student’s favorite 3 words would be: “How does analyzing…” or “To what extent…”

All in all, when your supervisor reads the question, it should not raise questions (other than definitions) like “what exactly are you analyzing”, “how are you quantifying your analysis and comparison” for instance.

The components of your research question are the following:

  • Dependant variables
  • Independent Variables
  • Measuring Technique
  • Control Variable
  • System

Once you have drafted a research question, it is time to lay out an outline for how you want your EE to look. This includes a very detailed breakdown of what you can possibly include in addition to the broken down structure that was mentioned earlier in this blog.

Drafting an outline for your extended essay

Plan your journey with your destination in mind. Although your introduction and conclusion can be similar, that is not how it should be. Across the extended essay, the reader needs to go through different phases beginning with what instigated the thought of picking this topic and writing about it to the answer of the research question. You will need to remember to keep relating to the introduction since parts of your extended essay cannot seem disconnected. The entire essay should have one focus, one aim and has to be cohesive. 

An efficient way to structure your outline would be the bullet point method. The table of contents heading followed by what has to be covered under said heading. You can use sub bullet points to the sub bullet points if necessary. Keep adding points that you find relevant as you do your research. 

A possible outline is shown below:

1) Title page

  • Topic
  • Research Question
  • Word Count
  • Subject

2.) Table of contents

3.) Introduction

  • Personal engagement
  • Statistics
  • RQ

4.) Background information

  • Definitions
  • Formula with explanation of variables included in the formula
  • Factors affecting the independent variable from RQ
  • How are you measuring the factors

5.) Variables

  • Independent variables
  • Dependant variables
  • Controlled variables
  • Constant conditions

6) Hypothesis

7.) Experimental Setup

  • Experimental setup 1
  • Condition 1/2/3 if present
  • Experimental setup 2 if comparing two methods

8.) Procedure

  • Experimental Setup 1
  • Experimental Setup 2

9.) Data Collection

  • Experimental Setup 1
  • Sample calculation 
  • Raw Data table (depending on number of conditions)
  • Uncertainty calculation (depending on number of conditions)
  • Processed Data Table (depending on number of conditions)

10.) Analysis

  • Individual analysis of all the factors that is being measured/calculated
  • Graphs and brief explanation of results

11.) Conclusion

  • Summary of data results with explanation
  • Compare with hypothesis
  • Answer RQ
  • Validate the experiment with secondary data and evidence

12.) Evaluation

  • Strengths
  • Limitations
  • Further improvements
  • Future scope

Some may not be necessary and you will not be able to include all of them. Therefore, the key here is to narrow down and prioritize. Remember to include every single topic that needs to be covered in the paragraph that way you can keep track and strike off as you include it. For everything you write, you need to question yourself: 

  • “Do I really need to write this – is it relevant?
  • “Why is it so?”
  • “How is it like this”

However, some of the answers may get you into some unnecessary history and derivation that you will not have to include. So again, keep in mind to prioritize. 

A simple outline for your paragraphs could be this:

  • Definition
  • Formula if required
  • Explanation of the formula
  • Summary
  • Example and explanation
  • Why is this in your research – You must relate it to the RQ 

You will be following this outline majorly while writing the background information. Therefore when the reader reads this section of your essay, they will understand everything there is needed to know in order to relate with your experiments, analysis and conclusion. 

Beginning your research

Now that you know what to research about, this is the part where you locate the sources for your information. When you begin this process, you might seem like there is an overload of text, just like I did. But once you put all of the information together, you will begin to know what to scrap and what to keep depending on the relevance. The key here is to search efficiently. Use your keywords wisely while searching up information

There are three things to keep in mind while beginning to research:

You have the option of conducting primary or secondary research. I did primary research because I thought I could show maximum personal engagement if I actually performed the experiment. It would mean that I would make the setup and try different variations of it. However, while some people have also performed secondary research, your research question and the area of topic needs to be really good in order to bring the research upto 4000 words. Again, you will also need to be very interested in the topic that you pick because, otherwise, it will be difficult to put together an essay.

Keep an eye out from where you pick your resources. A very strong advice would be to avoid taking information from the Wikipedia website. IB doesn’t deem this a credible nor a valid resource given that anyone could go on it and change the text. It is a general encyclopedia with no known author and unstable text. Try sourcing information from articles, websites, videos, audios, etc.

What I ended up doing was that I sat down with my laptop, hoping to find all the information I needed at one stretch. Later on, not only did I exhaust myself with the first two topics, I realized that a lot of information gets added on in the process of doing my EE no matter what. In the beginning stage, just try bookmarking your sites and then go through them one by one and copy paste the information onto a blank document. This copy-pasted information does not  go in your EE because it will be caught in plagiarism. Everything needs to be written by you in your words. 

The introduction 

When you write an introduction, you’re basically creating a first impression on the reader. The most significant part of writing your introduction is personal engagement. This is the part where you show the reader how passionate you are about your topic and to what extent your interest goes. Particularly for me, this portion of the EE was the toughest to write because I had gone through over 5 drafts to enhance the personal engagement. 

A bonus tip would be that here, you would not need to limit yourself just to the experiment or the specific area of application you took. You can look at a bigger picture of where the concept is applied, talk about that and mention that you’re doing a smaller scale experiment to bring out results. Let’s look at an example:

The RQ: To what extent are the G force and centripetal force experienced in clothoid loops vary by changing the radius of curvature and pitch of the loop?

Here as you can see, I have not mentioned the area of application specifically. So, it can mean that I’m experimenting with clothoid loops from any situation. In the introduction I had brought in the concept of clothoid loops in fighter jets/ aerobic airplanes. 

While I look at this, I will not be able to conduct a physical experiment since I can’t measure anything from a real fighter jet making the loop. Therefore, I took a similar situation where clothoid loops are used; roller coasters. Comparatively, roller coasters are easier to model and experiment with. All in all, I would technically be basing my EE on clothoid loops in aerobic airplanes, however, I will be using a roller coaster model to do so. Hence why I have not mentioned either applications in the RQ.

These are some basic bullet points for your introduction:

  • Provide context to your RQ; talk about where your RQ stemmed from and the thinking process behind it
  • State the research question and talk about the significance of answering it; here it could be because there is a problem and you’ve come up with a research question to answer it. 
  • Describe how this research will be interesting, helpful and valuable to your reader 
  • Include a brief description of what you will be exploring and how you will be doing it

Be sure to include everything mentioned above briefly. Introductions usually don’t go beyond a page and a half to 2 as it would seem like you’re dragging it too much. Honestly speaking, I started with a 2 and a half page introduction and cut it down to one page. Again, prioritizing and rephrasing your introduction with good and crisp language is important here.

The background information 

Everything you write in the background information are the physics concepts and textbook knowledge basically. You will need to explain/define the concept, include any formula if it’s there, explain the variables in the formula and explain the relation between this and your RQ. You would need to include diagrams here as well. As for my extended essay, I made sure to draw most of my images rather than use the ones from the internet because I believed it would add more personal engagement to my overall essay. One of the images I drew is shown below:

An example of what the background information should consist of is shown below with reference to the research question.

The RQ: To what extent are the G force and centripetal force experienced in clothoid loops vary by changing the radius of curvature and pitch of the loop?

Information that needs to be included:

  • How roller coasters work – their mechanism
  • The different forces: G force and centripetal force
  • Circular Loops – formula to calculate G and centripetal force
  • Clothoid Loops – formula to calculate G and centripetal force
  • Corkscrew Loops – formula to calculate G and centripetal force

The reason behind taking circular loops and corkscrew loops when only clothoid was mentioned in the RQ was because when you change the factors (radius and pitch) it becomes a different kind of loop. Therefore, it can be seen that all the bases have been covered. 

Materials and applications used

As you can tell from the self-explanatory heading, this section is where you list down every material and software application that you used. You will need to note down all the apparatus you have used from the lab. This can be written in a table format to use minimum space and avoid a lot of blank space. In addition to writing the name of the instrument, you will also need to include the quantity, dimensions and the uncertainty of the instrument. An example is:

  • Transparent rubber tube (diameter: 0.053 m ± 0.001 m, length: 4.749 m ± 0.001 m)
  • Spherical marble (diameter: 0.012 m ± 0.001 m, mass: 0.0041 kg ± 0.0001 kg)
  • Measuring Tape (± 0.001 m)

Variables

This portion of the extended essay talks about the independent, dependent and controlled variables. Now, listing down the variables wouldn’t suffice. In addition to it, you will need to talk about the significance of the variable and how it is controlled. This can also be in the format of the table. 

These variables are mentioned in the research question. Therefore an example would be:

The RQ: To what extent are the G force and centripetal force experienced in clothoid loops vary by changing the radius of curvature and pitch of the loop?

Independent Variable:

  • Radius of the loop

Dependent Variable:

  • G Force

Controlled Variable:

  • Mass of marble 
  • Potential energy changes thereby changing the velocity of the marble 
  • This was a controlled variable since the same marble was used through all the experiments. 

Set-up and procedures

In this part, you will need to explain your entire procedure of how the experiment will be carried out and a picture or a diagram of the experimental setup itself. Again, for personal engagement, I ended up drawing a labeled diagram of the experimental setup.

If you have multiple factors or conditions you are working with, you will need to explain the experimental procedure for each of them. This includes how you will be changing the particular variable and how you will be measuring it. On another note, if you’re using softwares like Tracker, this would be the right place to include how it will be used. Screenshots from the software itself will validate the purpose. Since you’re explaining the procedure here, it needs to leave no room for doubt and needs to be explained well. 

Finally, you will also have to address the safety and ethical consideration after explaining the procedures. Now, if your EE is like mine, with no significant risks involved, you would still have to mention it as it will show the moderators that you have in fact taken it into consideration. So a standard line saying that there were no environmental and ethical issues and that it was a safe experiment would be essential.

Hypothesis

This is a small paragraph where you talk about what you think the outcome of this experiment will be. However, you can not make a baseless hypothesis. You would need to back your statement up with a physics concept or something from your understanding. You do not also want to include any secondary evidence or data as this would become your conclusion then. 

Keep in mind that this isn’t the final conclusion and is only a prediction of what the outcome will be. Later on, in the conclusion, you will be comparing how different your hypothesis and your actual outcome is. There is an equal chance of your hypothesis matching your conclusion or otherwise. Nevertheless, however tempting it may be, do not change your hypothesis if its different from your desired results. 

Data Collection

Data collection includes the raw and uncalculated primary or secondary data you collect from the experiment or online. There are chances where you may have to do pre-experimental calculations before beginning your experiment like I did. In my EE, I had to do a calculation to decide where the marble had to be dropped from for maximum velocity. 

Once you collect the raw data of the independent variable, you will have to calculate your dependent variable. To do this, you will need to show a sample calculation for the first data value. In my EE, there was a very detailed, step-by-step calculation of how the dependent variables were calculated. After, you will need to include a table with all the raw data you collected and calculated. Once this is included, you will have to perform uncertainty calculations for each of the dependent and independent variables. This will come in handy when you create a graph with all your data. Now, with the uncertainty calculations you will have a final processed data table. 

This will further be repeated for how many calculations need to be done depending on the number of factors/conditions involved in your experiment.

Data Analysis

Writing this data analysis is probably one of the most significant things in your entire EE. In summary, this will include your final processed data table, a graph to visually show the table and an explanation of the graph itself. 

While you visually represent the data table in a graph, there are a lot of elements in the graph that need to be included. They are:

  • Error bars
  • Legend of the data lines
  • Graph Title along with graph number
  • All axes labeled (variable name and its unit)
  • Best fit line – its equation + R-squared value

The pointers that you will need to include in your data analysis are as follows: 

  • Explaining the basic trend of the graph – where the output variables increase, decrease and where it is at its minimum and maximum. These can all include both the value of the dependent and independent variable.
  • Followed by this, you will need to include the R-squared value to validate the trend of the results as well as the method in which you obtained said output values – you can choose to include the equation of the graph as well.
  • Lastly, you will need to briefly explain the reason behind the relationship between the independent and dependent variable. You are not required to include secondary data or any evidence to back up this explanation. 
  • Any abnormal data points that can be noticed from the graph. While mentioning this, a brief explanation as to why you think it is so, needs to be included as well.
  • Any difference in percentage uncertainty that has a significant difference.
  • Any qualitative observations that were made during the experiment. I would highly advise you to include this if it is possible since it gives the reader a personal insight as to what you closely noticed during the experiment. 

An example is shown below to see what I had included as a gist:

Now that you have analyzed the graph, you can proceed to writing the conclusion.

Conclusion

You have finally reached the end of the essay. This is where you extensively explain the reasons for all your outcomes and literally answer your research question. When I did this, I had a realization moment – “Wow, I’m almost done with this super long, extensively written Extended Essay”.  Little did I know, I had a problem with my word count – it had exceeded by almost a 1000 words. We’ll get back to this later.

These are some pointers you must include in this order but is not limited to:

  • Briefly explain your experiment and what your experiment is about. Limit this to 2-3 sentences. This portion of the conclusion is included because some people have the tendency to just skip to the conclusion. Therefore, even when they read this section alone, they should be able to understand it like they’ve read the entire essay.
  • State and answer your research question. Including this statement would provide a direct answer to the RQ you had posed to yourself. This will show the reader that everything you did in the essay was relevant and necessary to answer your RQ.
  • Compare your final outcome i.e. the relationship and the trends you found in the analysis with your hypothesis. You will need to explain how different or similar your hypothesis was. It is also important to understand that the hypothesis can differ from your final results because not all theoretically understood answers turn out to be the same as the practical ones. This is applicable provided that your hypothesis is backed up with your knowledge of basic physics concepts.
  • Next, you will continue explaining the briefly explained reason behind the trend of the graph once you have stated the final relationship between both the variables.
  • Followed by this, you will need to validate your results. This is probably the most significant key component in your entire essay as you need proof to show that your outcome values are correct and that your experiment is reliable. The readers need to believe that everything they read in your essay is solid and true. However, you can choose to include this portion under a separate subheading after the conclusion is complete if you have graphs to support your results.
  • Lastly, you will need to include a direct one-line statement that summarizes everything you explained before this. An example of this would be:

“In conclusion, to provide the safest conditions, a clothoid loop with a higher inner radius of curvature or a larger pitch can be designed as these conditions reduce the effect of the G forces.”

Evaluation

In this part, you will need to evaluate your strengths, weaknesses, further improvements that can be made and if there is any further scope to your essay. It is vital to be real and honest about all the weaknesses and problems that you encountered during the course of the experiment and how it might have changed your outcomes.

In strengths you can talk about the reliability of the experiment that you did. This can be mentioned if you had solid secondary data to back up your final results. Additionally, you can also mention any specific procedure you followed to exclude anything from interfering with the raw data values. An example would be:

“The rubber tube was regularly wiped to reduce the accumulation of dust, rubber pieces, and any possible substance that would affect the movement, and the friction caused due to it.”

As for the weaknesses, you will need to include the error as well as a way in which you can possibly improve it to avoid said weakness. The readers here will respect the errors that you faced and the reason why you encountered it. However, try to keep this at a minimum and fix all the possible errors that can be mended. You can include systematic errors – which are errors related to the experimental setup & random errors – which are basically human errors.

Further Scope

Here, you will need to do some more research as to how your experiment or essay can be taken forward – the possible explorations. You will have to incorporate your initial thoughts about why you were performing this experiment – this would have been included in the introduction. For this, try to think of something outside the box but something that is still possible to experiment with. The readers always love to read a crazy idea for another physics experiment.

Bibliography

You will need to finalize one way of citing your bibliography. There are multiple kinds of ways to cite your sources: MLA, APA and Chicago. However, the default style that I used and that is used widely was the MLA (Modern Language Association) format. It is important to be consistent with the way you cite your resources because you can not switch between the formats. 

Not all extended essays follow this, but what I did was that I included in-text citations with numbers in the text across the essay and referred those numbers with the full MLA citation in the bibliography section. This way, when they read the essay and want to check something, they need not go scrambling for which the most appropriate link is to find their answers. Including in-text citations makes your extended essay a lot more organized. Try your best to include the author’s name, the date the site or article text was published, publisher’s name, title of the text and when this site was accessed by you.

Appendix:

This is where you include all the raw data tables of every experimental trial. Presenting this data will also show the reader that you actually went through with performing the entire experiment instead of fabricating the data to obtain calculated results. As the word count does not include the appendix, there is no limit as to how much you can add to this section.

Congratulations! You have reached the end of the extended essay. Last not but least, there are some general, common pointers that you need to keep in mind for your entire EE:

  • Try to explain and give a reason to every statement possible. This will leave no room for questions meaning that the reader has thoroughly understood everything there is need to know.
  • Do not repeat anything that you have already said once. Re-reading similar statements in different words will only mean that you are adding it to increase the word count. However, exceptions can be made where you will need to re-write it later in the analysis and conclusion. Apart from that, try to keep it at a minimum especially in the beginning half. 

Unfortunately, as I mentioned before, I ended up doing this and my EE got extended by about a 1000 words. This meant that I had to read the entire essay more than 5 times to cut down any unnecessary points and rephrase the existing information into brief sentences.

  • Maintain your significant figures anywhere you include numerical data. This will show consistency and will also signify that your results have not been randomly rounded but was done for all them thereby neglecting a weakness that the calculated results may not be accurate. 
  • Organizing your paragraphs using headings and subheadings. Surprisingly, this part took me a little time because I needed to restructure almost my entire essay as a lot of the information was scattered. Besides, using headings and subheadings clearly explains to the reader what they will be reading in that paragraph.

I believe I have covered everything you could possibly need to write one spectacular extended essay! All the best and let us know how it goes! 

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