Tips for Creating a Compelling Research Question for Your IB EE

Welcome to the exciting world of the IB Extended Essay (EE). In my experience, formulating an excellent research question is your first step to success. The IB EE research question is the backbone of your entire project. It shapes your investigation, guides your analysis, and impresses your examiners. So, let’s get started on creating one that stands out!

What Is IB EE Research Question?

This specific, sharply focused question forms the backbone of the IB Diploma Programme’s Extended Essay requirement. This question is crucial because it guides the entire research process, framing the scope of the study and directing the student’s analysis and discussion. Here’s what makes the research question so crucial in the context of the Extended Essay:

  • The research question helps to keep the essay focused on a manageable topic. By having a straightforward question, the student can structure their entire essay around addressing this central issue, which helps maintain a coherent argument throughout the essay.
  • A well-formulated research question allows the student to investigate a topic in depth. It should invite analysis, evaluation, and the synthesis of information rather than merely summarizing existing knowledge.
  • The question should reflect the student’s interest in a particular aspect of a subject they are passionate about. This personal connection can make the research process more engaging and fulfilling.
  • A clear and focused research question is crucial for scoring well in the IB EE. The clarity of the research question is one of the assessment criteria, and it significantly influences the overall structure and quality of the essay.

It’s also important to continuously refine your research question. As I know from watching many students progress, their initial questions often evolve as they dig deeper into their research. This evolution is a natural and essential part of the process, as it reflects a deeper understanding of the topic and more precise thinking about what you aim to investigate.

Characteristics of a Good IB EE Research Question

As someone familiar with the IB system, I can say that formulating an effective question is about fulfilling an academic requirement and laying a foundation for your entire research project. From my extensive experience, here are the characteristics of a good IB EE research question.

1. Specific and Concise

The research question should be precise and to the point. It must clearly define the scope of your research in a few words. A good question avoids ambiguity and broad terms, focusing instead on a specific aspect of a wider topic.

2. Researchable

From my experience, a research question must be feasible; it must be structured to allow for systematic investigation and analysis using available methods and resources. This means the question should be grounded in existing literature and theory but open to empirical inquiry or critical examination.

3. Focused but Not Overly Narrow

According to general IB criteria, the question should be narrow enough to allow for in-depth study within the word count limitations of an EE but broad enough to investigate significant aspects of the topic. Balancing focus and breadth is critical to developing a compelling argument.

4. Challenging

A good research question should challenge you to think critically and analytically. It shouldn’t just ask for a summary of known facts but require you to analyze, compare, or interpret information to contribute to a deeper understanding of the subject.

5. Interest and Engagement

In my opinion, one of the most overlooked aspects of selecting a research question is the student’s interest in the topic. Choosing a question that aligns with your passions or curiosities can significantly enhance your motivation and engagement throughout the research process.

6. Originality

A good research question often introduces a fresh perspective on a familiar topic or investigates a less-studied area. Originality doesn’t necessarily mean addressing something completely unresearched but could involve approaching a well-trodden subject from a new angle or using a novel methodology.

7. Clarity of Purpose

The question should communicate the purpose of your research to any reader. This clarity helps guide your research direction and set clear expectations for your audience.

8. Aligns with IB Criteria

Finally, the question should align with the IB criteria for the Extended Essay. It includes compliance with the subject-specific guidelines, the feasibility of completing the research within the required framework, and the potential to develop an argument that engages with global significance or local relevance, depending on the topic.

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How to Create a Compelling IB EE Research Question?

Here’s a detailed guide on developing an engaging question that drives a thorough and focused investigation.

1. Choose Your Subject Area

Start by selecting a subject area that genuinely interests you. It should be a field you are passionate about or curious to investigate further. In my experience, this is crucial because your interest will sustain you through the research and writing process, which can be demanding.

2. Conduct Preliminary Research

Before formulating a good question, you must know what has already been studied and what gaps or questions exist. Review existing literature, articles, studies, and discussions about your chosen subject. It will help you understand the scope of your topic and refine your area of interest.

3. Brainstorm Potential Questions

With a good background understanding, start brainstorming possible questions. List any questions that come to mind without worrying about how good they are. The goal here is quantity over quality initially. I know that the more questions you come up with, the more material you have to work with later.

4. Evaluate and Refine Your Questions

Look at your list and start evaluating each question based on several criteria:

  • Specificity. Is the question focused and precise?
  • Relevance. Does it relate to your subject area and the IB criteria?
  • Feasibility. Can you realistically answer this question within the constraints of the EE (e.g., word limit, resources, time)?
  • Complexity. Does it allow for analysis, discussion, and evaluation rather than just a simple description?

Narrow down your questions based on these evaluations.

5. Seek Feedback

Once you have one or a few potential questions, discuss them with your EE supervisor or a teacher knowledgeable in the subject. Feedback is invaluable because it can highlight issues you might not see and provide insights that refine your focus further. From my experience, this step often leads to significant improvements in the research question.

6. Finalize Your Research Question

After refining your question with feedback, finalize it by ensuring it is as clear and concise as possible. Make sure it directly relates to what you aim to investigate and achieves a good balance between being specific and allowing comprehensive investigation within the scope of an EE.

7. Write a Research Proposal

Once your question is finalized, writing a brief research proposal can be extremely helpful. It should outline what you aim to investigate, its significance, and how you plan to research. This step forces you to think through all aspects of your project and ensures that your research question is viable.

8. Start Your Research

With a compelling question and clear plan, you’re ready to start the research. Remember, it’s okay if your research leads you to refine your question further — sometimes, the best insights come when you’re deep in the process.

Extended Essay Research Question Examples

Developing a good research question for your IB Extended Essay sometimes feels daunting, but examining some examples can provide clarity and inspiration:

  • Biology. How does the introduction of non-native plant species affect the biodiversity of insect pollinators in a specific region?
  • History. What was the impact of Winston Churchill’s leadership on British military strategies during the Second World War?
  • English Literature. How does Jane Austen’s use of free indirect discourse in “Pride and Prejudice” enhance the development of Elizabeth Bennet’s character from the reader’s perspective?
  • Psychology. To what extent does exposure to violent video games influence aggressive behavior in adolescents in urban settings?
  • Economics. How have changes in minimum wage laws in Germany affected small businesses in the last decade?
  • Environmental Systems and Societies. What are the environmental and economic impacts of ecotourism in Costa Rica?
  • Chemistry. What is the effectiveness of biodegradable plastics derived from corn starch in reducing household plastic waste?
  • World Studies. What role can renewable energy technologies play in mitigating water scarcity in the Middle East?

These examples help clarify what constitutes a well-defined and focused research question. The key is to ensure that the question is specific enough to allow for deep analysis but broad enough to discuss the significant themes and implications relevant to your chosen subject.


Remember that a compelling research question is essential for a successful Extended Essay. It influences everything from your research to the final presentation of your findings. Take your time, use the resources available, and don’t hesitate to seek advice.

Now, armed with these tips, you’re ready to formulate that perfect IB EE research question. This is just the beginning of your exciting investigation. Stay curious, stay motivated, and most importantly, start now! Also, our IB experts are always ready to help you with Extended Essay writing.

Valerie Green

Valerie Green

Valerie Green is a dedicated educator who spends her time helping high school and college students succeed. She writes articles and guides for various online education projects, providing students with the tools they need to excel in their studies. Friendly and approachable, she is committed to making a difference in the lives of students.

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