Do's and Don'ts for EE

Below you will find a list of "do's" and "don't's" for to better understand the demands of the EE.

You will see that much of the advice focuses on how to set the question.


The following advice is essential for doing well on the EE.

1. The question needs to be specific.  Don't write about "therapies" - choose a therapy.  Do not write about "strategies"  - choose a strategy. 

However, when you are specific, make sure that the limiter that is being used has a purpose - and that research that is directly linked to that limiter can be found. For example, a question like "Is CBT effective in the treatment of Major Depressive Disorder in 14-year-old Americans," is rather problematic, unless the research that has been found is limited to this sample group.  Narrowing your question down to a specific population and then not having research that specifically studies that group, leads to low marks.

2. There should be a counter-argument. A counter-argument should challenge your thesis.  If your thesis is that there are biological roots of aggression, the counter-argument is research that shows that biological arguments are not valid.  Discussing alternative theories is not a true counter-argument.  The goal of the essay is not to "report" alternative positions, but to present them and then discuss why the argument that you are making - that is, your thesis statement - is the more appropriate conclusion.

3. Each paragraph of your paper should respond directly to the research question.  When developing your outline for the paper, ask yourself if each section that you are planning to write is a direct response to the question.  If not, consider leaving those sections out of the paper.  For example, if the question is "To what extent does childhood trauma play a role in the onset of schizophrenia", a section of your paper devoted to the treatment of schizophrenia is not a response to the question and should not be included as part of your essay.

4. Use research that is from the last 20 years whenever possible.  Avoid research that is before the 1960s.  Also, avoid using only the research that is in all of the IB textbooks and online revision sites. You need to be able to demonstrate that you have actually carried out research.

5. Draw a conclusion that responds directly to the research question in light of the research that you have discussed. Do not conclude that "so, we don't really know."  This is a poor conclusion.  Also, the examiner should be able to read your conclusion and see that it reflects the argument that you have made in the body of your essay.

Don't's: what may lower the quality of your extended essay

The following advice focuses on common mistakes that result in lower EE scores.

1. Do not write about all three approaches.  If your question is "To what extent do biological, cognitive and sociocultural factors play a role in aggression?", you do not have a focused question and your essay will lack depth.  A "to what extent" question should at the most focus on one approach.  "To what extent do biological factors play a role in aggression?"  Ideally, you would limit it even more.  "To what extent does testosterone play a role in aggressive behaviour?"

2. Do not write a history of the issue.  Many students write an introduction and then write a history of the issue.  For example - a history of therapy or a history of sports psychology.  This is not highly relevant and lowers marks for reasoned argument.  It is important for you to focus on your question from start to finish.  If the first time you actually address the question directly is on page 9 or 10 of your EE, you have not focused adequately on your question.

3. The IB recommends that you not use footnotes. This is not how most scientific papers are written. 

4. When citing sources, you are assessed in the new EE guide on how sources are used.  It is very important that you do not include lists of sources.  The following example will result in lower marks:

There are many examples where imagery has been successful including baseball (Gerry 2012; Marks and Spencer 2011; Taylor and Swift 2009), gymnastics (Rice and Pudding 2001; Tyler 2000; Friedman and Lain 1999; Curtis 2005) and football (Arsenal and Spark 2002; Fender and Bender 2001; Marx and Lennon 2005; Pryor 2001).

When examiners see this type of citation, it raises red flags about the academic honesty of the paper. This should be avoided at all costs as it is up to you to show how each source is actually being used.

5.  Avoid using Wikipedia, the Huffington Post, WebMD, general blogs or other student's essay as sources of research. Also, do not use unpublished papers.  You may use them if you are looking for statistics or general information, but they should not be used as a key piece of evidence in support of your argument.

6. Do not include appendices.  Examiners are told that they should not read appendices.

7.  You are not allowed to carry out interviews or surveys as part of your research. You may interview someone in order to get an understanding of your topic, but you are not allowed to cite the interview in your paper.  Doing so means that your paper "does not meet the requirements" and your grade may be compromised.

8.  You must use studies that directly support your question.  Do not attempt to apply theory on your own to answer a question.  For example, let's look at the question:  "To what extent can sociocultural factors explain exercise habits?"  A poor essay would look at Asch, Tajfel & Turner and Milgram in order to show that conformity, social identity and obedience (for example, to a doctor) all play a role in exercise habits.  This type of essay would most likely earn a D. In order to answer the question well, you would have to find research that specifically looks at the role of sociocultural factors in exercise. For example, studies that have shown the effectiveness of compliance techniques on increasing regular exercise - or cultural variations in understanding the importance of exercise.

9.  Finally, avoid using the word "prove".  Psychologists cannot "prove" that anything is true, but they can provide evidence to support their theories. It is incorrect if your conclusion is that you have "proven that CBT is more effective than drugs in the treatment of anxiety disorders."

I know that I am doing it wrong if....

I am discussing all of the approaches in my essay.

I have limited my question to a specific population and I cannot find research that looks specifically at that group.

My "to what extent question" has more than one variable.

I am trying to apply a theory to answer a question, but I don't have research that specifically does that.

I am carrying out a survey or an interview as part of my EE research.

All materials on this website are for the exclusive use of teachers and students at subscribing schools for the period of their subscription. Any unauthorised copying or posting of materials on other websites is an infringement of our copyright and could result in your account being blocked and legal action being taken against you.

Comments 33

SHILPA KAPOOR 20 February 2018 - 09:16

Dear John,
Please help. What would you advise regarding the following EE topic.
To what extent does there exist a relationship between the development of anorexia and bulimia and an impact on the personality patterns amongst females.
Thank you

John Crane 20 February 2018 - 09:55

Dear Shilpa - I do not really understand the question. How does anorexia impact the personality of females? First, the student needs to choose either anorexia or bulimia. Then the student needs to decide what they want to know about the disorder. Is it about the role that personality plays in the origin of the disorder?

SHILPA KAPOOR 20 February 2018 - 10:52

Basically she wants to explore how anorexia will impact ones personality?

John Crane 21 February 2018 - 06:35

Shilpa - has she already found research on this topic? It seems rather backwards to me. I think that whether certain aspects of personality are linked to anorexia would be easier to research.

Stephanie Dawes 24 February 2018 - 23:20

Can students Look at gender differences? My student has lots of research to suggest there are similarities and differences? Thanks John

John Crane 26 February 2018 - 07:24

Dear Stephanie,

They can look at gender differences for EE - but it should be specified to a topic.

Stephanie Dawes 1 March 2018 - 08:01

sorry they are looking at the content in dreams

John Crane 1 March 2018 - 13:47

Stephanie - and what would the debate be in the essay? It sounds like it will simply be descriptive. If that is the case, they would get relatively low marks.

SREEJITH A.P 6 March 2018 - 10:13

Dear sir,
I have a doubt in the word count.
Are the headings and footnotes included in the word count?
(eg: Introduction, main headings under body and conclusion, etc...)

John Crane 6 March 2018 - 21:45

The headings are not included. Students should not use footnotes. Citation should be in-text. They are not included in the word count.

SREEJITH A.P 7 March 2018 - 06:52

Thank you sir

SREEJITH A.P 8 March 2018 - 05:26

Dear sir,
For MLA in-text citation,
for citing articles and journal, do we have different format? or the same

SREEJITH A.P 9 March 2018 - 04:24

Dear sir,
For MLA in-text citation,
for citing articles and journal, do we have different format? or the same
do we have any search engine to get in text citation?
I went through the materials of intext citation, and my student given intext citation like, eg: (Keller, 45), here 45 is the page number. But the problem is keller has different years reports, like 2006, 2010 etc.., if he is citing like this how the examiner can understand this in which years study/report.

John Crane 10 March 2018 - 07:16

Dear Sreejith

The students should use a citation guide. Personally, I recommend APA. /

If you want them to use MLA, then they should use a source like this /

I do not use MLA so the style guide is best way to know how to cite the different types of sources.

Tripti Rathore 24 April 2018 - 17:55

Dear John,
One of my students is interested in the following topic
“To what extent do fitness advertisements affect the body image among female collegiate athletes in US?” Kindly give your opinion

John Crane 25 April 2018 - 13:47

Dear Tripti,

This may be a bit too specific by limiting it to the US. Otherwise, it is a fine question.

Tripti Rathore 27 April 2018 - 06:37

Dear John,
Do we need to focus on area, gender and age group while framing Research questions in psychology

Tripti Rathore 27 April 2018 - 07:29

Dear John,
One of my students is interested in the following topic
“How far do you agree that deviant boys find deviant peers company which leads to increase in deviant behaviour in US?”

Tripti Rathore 27 April 2018 - 09:11

Also this one
“To what extent do insecure parental attachments contribute to the development of depression among female American adolescents?”

John Crane 28 April 2018 - 05:59

Dear Tripti

students are not required to focus on a specific gender or age group. I do not know what you mean by "area..."

The question "how far do you agree" is not appropriate. It would be better to use "to what extent." The term "deviant boys" is also not appropriate. It is not a psychological term. This question needs to some real re-thinking. i am not clear what the student is trying to say. As for the second question, I do not see how the student will find information only on "female American adolescents." I think that this is too limiting and will lead to a student not being able to find enough research.

Tripti Rathore 30 April 2018 - 08:19

Thanks John

Tripti Rathore 30 April 2018 - 08:55

Dear John,
Please advise
“To what extent does the socioeconomic status of parents affect the cognitive development of their child?”

Tripti Rathore 30 April 2018 - 09:10

I mean do they need to focus on a particular culture or country

John Crane 1 May 2018 - 07:55

Dear Tripti,

As I said above, it is not necessary or even helpful to specify the culture or country in a question.

Tripti Rathore 4 May 2018 - 03:34

Dear John,
Coming back to the above question on Juvenile Delinquency
"To what extent does an insecure relationship between a child and primary caregiver lead to the development of Juvenile delinquency in adolescent boys in the USA?

John Crane 4 May 2018 - 05:36

Dear Tripti

As I have said above - do not specify the culture. I have written this now more than once. By specifying the culture, students are then limited to using only research on adolescent US boys. And research that does not fit that condition would then be held against them. This is an unnecessary restriction on students. Otherwise the question is fine.

Tripti Rathore 5 May 2018 - 17:34

Alright thanks a ton, John. Give your feedback on the following question
“To what extent does the socioeconomic status of parents affect the cognitive development of their child?”

John Crane 5 May 2018 - 17:40

That seems fine to me. They may want to focus on one aspect of SES - for example, poverty or level of parent education in order to make the essay more focused.

Tripti Rathore 6 May 2018 - 06:25

Thanks a ton, John. So now the question can be framed in this manner
“To what extent does parental education affect the cognitive development of their child?” The counter factors can be parental occupation, parental income, poverty and parental involvement .

John Crane 7 May 2018 - 06:21

Tripti - yes, that seems fine and a good approach.

Tripti Rathore 9 May 2018 - 08:12

Thanks a ton, John

Tripti Rathore 22 May 2018 - 03:44

Dear John,
Is it advisable to use two theories for supportive evidence in EE or more than 2 is required. The student won't be penalized for using only two theories throughout the essay with two counter claims.

John Crane 23 May 2018 - 05:32

Dear Tripti,

It depends on the question how many theories make sense. But they would not be penalized simply for the number of theories. It sounds like your plan is fine.