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How to keep your extended essay focused and manageable

Diploma Programme (DP) graduate Rya Buckley shares tips for making the extended essay writing process enjoyable and educational. This is her second story in our graduate voices series.

Stack of books at the library

By Rya Buckley

As Year 1 DP students look ahead to their second and final year, they will start to seriously think about the extended essay. With the deadline closer than it has ever been and a stretch of relatively free time in which to fill blank pages, the break is a perfect time to make headway on the gigantic project.

Three years ago, as I was finishing up Year 1, that was me. I had really enjoyed SL Philosophy and had asked my philosophy teacher to be my extended essay supervisor. Before we departed for the summer, she wanted all of her extended essay students to have selected topics so we could begin research.

The project came at a time when my perspective of the world was changing. It was mid-2016 and I was paying more attention to the news than I had ever before. I had begun reading the work of inspiring and thoughtful writers who were challenging and expanding my worldview. I wanted to explore these big ideas using the systematic and logical approach that I had learned in SL Philosophy.

As the extended essay  requires so much dedication, DP students are often advised to write about what they are passionate about. While this does not always have to be true, the topic has to be something with the potential to continuously interest you. Here are some tips for keeping interest levels up throughout the duration of the writing process.

Strip back your biases

“You don’t want to get so stuck on the conclusion of your essay that you don’t let the journey guide you.”

In one of my first meetings with my extended essay supervisor, she asked me if I knew the answer to the question I was exploring. At the time I didn’t and I truthfully told her so. She told me that this would make the process exciting as it meant I was going to discover something through the writing process.

You don’t want to get so stuck on the conclusion of your essay that you don’t let the journey guide you. Even if you are vindicating or demonstrating an idea, be wary of letting pre-conceived notions impede the logic of your paper or the flow of your ideas. If a core pillar of your paper suddenly strikes you as confusing, explore it further. Write out the counter-opinions and consider them as possible options. Not only will this make your research more interesting but it will also lead to a paper of fully formed ideas.

Give yourself time

“Meeting those deadlines was not easy, but it kept me on track.”

You cannot let the writing process guide you if you only have a week left to complete the process. My extended essay supervisor gave us deadlines when we approached her to be our supervisor. Each month she expected a draft, a little better or a little longer than the previous one. Meeting those deadlines was not easy, but it kept me on track.

If your supervisor isn’t providing you deadlines, set them for yourself and take them seriously. You may barely meet them but it is better to cram all night for some self-imposed deadline months before the real one than to feel the pressure right before your final draft is due.

Keep it simple

“I wanted to come to a conclusion that was meaningful to me”

My original extended essay outline was much too ambitious. I had all these philosophical ideas that I wanted to explore, several of which I did not understand very well. In addition, I wanted to bring relevance to my piece by incorporating current, real-world examples. But there were only ever 4,000 words.

As I wrote, I had to streamline my ideas. I prioritized real-world examples over old philosophical ideas. I decided not to waste time trying to understand theories that were likely outside my level of expertise. I wanted to come to a conclusion that was meaningful to me, instead of vaguely linking the ideas of others together.

I had other friends who had to adjust or completely redesign experiments. I knew others that changed topics and others who changed subjects. In the end, I think we all learned that we didn’t need to make it more complicated for ourselves than it already was. We didn’t have to research theories that frustrated us or read long books when we could make the same point with a few short poems. The task of writing a 4,000-word essay is already uphill without you adding another mountain in your path.

rya square

Rya Buckley is a graduate of St. Francis Xavier Secondary School in Canada and continued her studies at McMaster University. She is a Biology and Psychology major with a love of reading and writing.

To hear more from Diploma Programme (DP) graduates check out these IB programme stories. If you are an IB grad and want to share your story, write to us at We appreciate your support in sharing IB stories and invite you to connect with us on LinkedIn, Twitter and now Instagram!

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