Developing your extended essay research question

This process will help ensure you are planning an Extended Essay that is achievable and will allow you to access the highest grades.


Before you start

You are going to create a research question, a title and a substantial secondary data set or primary data collection plan.


What interests you?

The first step is to brainstorm all the ideas that you have the things that interest you. When you add something to your brainstorm think... 'is this worth asking?'

What is the big idea? This is the concept and the IBDP Geography course provides you with the 4Ps: Place, Process, Power and Possibility. Although you don’t need to think of how your title fits exactly with the 4Ps, it can help to think from this point of view. Alternatively you could think about themes: social, economic, environmental, demographic, political, spatial or temporal.

You could construct your brainstorm on paper (get yourself a large sheet) or using a digital app.


Your research question

A research question tells the reader the way in which you plan to analyse an issue.

The research question must be sharply focused and effective treatment must be possible within 4000 words, such as “To what extent does the quality of life in selected communes in the city of Geneva vary with distance from Lake Leman”.

  • Is it obviously a Geography Extended Essay? If not - refine it
  • Is it spatially (place) focused? If not - refine it
  • Is it worth asking? If not - refine it
  • Is it sharply focused? If not - refine it
  • Does it encourage an investigative approach? If not - refine it
  • Can geographical concepts, theories or ideas be applied to it? If not - refine it
  • Will it encourage written analysis, interpretation, evaluation and the development of an argument? If not - refine it
  • Is it phrased as a proposition, statement for discussion or a testable hypothesis? If not - refine it
  • Is it answerable in 40 hours of work / 4000 words of writing? If not - refine it

Watch this video from the University of Melbourne about research questions. It is not specifically produced for the Extended Essay but it still provides lots of great advice.


Time for Geography - What makes a good research question?


Your title

You need to have a ‘title’ that frames your Extended Essay, such as “Differences in quality of life in the city of Geneva, Switzerland”.

A title is a simple statement that summarises the main issue and location that you will study. It is not phrased as a question. It tells the reader what your essay is about.


Evidence of a substantial secondary data set or primary data collection plan

Before your title and research question will be agreed by your supervisor it is necessary to demonstrate that you have access to enough substantial secondary data or that you have a practical and efficient primary data collection scheme planned.

If you are using secondary data as the basis of your Extended Essay you need to be able to ‘add value’ to it by analysing it, interpreting it, graphing and/or mapping it.

If you are using primary data as the basis of your Extended Essay you need to outline what data you are going to collect, the data collection techniques you will be using and the location of your data collection sites.

Please demonstrate the above to your supervisor! Good luck!