Geography Extended Essay Research Questions


These subject guidelines should be read in conjunction with the Assessment Criteria


An extended essay in geography provides students with an opportunity to apply a range of skills to produce an independent and in-depth geographical study. The nature of an extended essay in geography is characterized by a spatial emphasis and the application of geographical theory and methodology.

Choice of topic

It is important that the topic of the essay has a geographical emphasis and is not more closely related to another discipline. It is the task of the supervisor to ensure that the research question leads the student along a path that utilizes appropriate geographical sources, and that encourages the application of relevant geographical concepts, theories or ideas. The essay topic may well relate to an area of the Diploma Programme geography course but this is not a requirement and other areas of the subject may be explored.

The scope of the essay should not be too broad: such essays are rarely successful. The best research questions are well focused, thus encouraging analysis in depth rather than breadth. It is also important that the geographical context of the essay is well established early in the essay.

Investigations carried out at a local scale usually score the highest marks. This narrow focus discourages an over- reliance on published materials and encourages original research. Essay conducted in an area that is familiar and accessible to the students have much grater chance of achieving success through a more personal involvement, which , in turn, encourages a greater in-depth study.

A sound methodology including the collection of high-quality data is the foundation of a good geography essay. Good data gives the student the scope for the type of in-depth analysis that characterizes the very best pieces of work. It is rare for an essay that is based entirely on published textbooks to score highly.

The following give some indication of the possible range of titles, research questions and approaches that can be considered.

Title                              Development disparities in Vietnam

Research question              To what extent does regional development in Vietnam reflect the core-periphery concept?

Approach                              Data collection of a range of development statistics for each Vietnamese province allows the construction of the student's own index of development levels pertinent to Vietnam. Provincial levels of development are mapped and the resulting pattern is compared with the core-periphery model.

Title                          Temperature variation in Vienna, Austria in the 20th century

Research question        What temperature variations occurred in Vienna during the 20th century and can these be linked to variations in solar energy output?

Approach                       Temperature records for the years 1900-1999 for Vienna are used to establish trends during that period. Variations from the century mean are calculated in order to identify warming and cooling periods. These are then correlated with annual sunspot totals, which are used as an indicator of solar energy output, in order to explain the periodic variations 1 in temperature.

Title                          Changes in population structure in the Czech Republic

Research Question:       How has the fall of communism changed the population structure of the czech Republic and what will be the social and economic effects of this?

Approach:                   Population statistics for age cohorts are gathered for the periods before and after 1989, along with data for birth and death rates and life expectancy. Trends in the percentage of population in various groups (active, dependent, young, aged) are established and projected upto the year 2030. Differences in these trends before and after 1989 are noted, and the consequences for the Czech Republic of falling birth rates and an aging population are evaluated.


Title                       Differences in quality of life in the city of Geneva, Switzerland

Research question    To what extent does the quality of life in selected communes in the city of Geneva vary with distance from lac Leman?


Six communes are selected, some near the lake and others at a distance away. Three transect lines are drawn through each commune and systematic sampling is carried out with regard to the quality of the environment. A points system is devised using determinants such as landscape quality, litter, vandalism, industry, traff ic, noise and air pollution, education and health facilities, shops, restaurants and access to open space. Each commune is given a score that is then correlated with distance from the lake. Published data regarding income levels and house size is also used to determine the quality of life of each commune and again related to distance from Lac Leman.

Treatment of the topic

It is important that an extended essay in geography is not seen as just an extended piece of fieldwork. Although there may be some similarities in approach, the extended essay need not place so strong an emphasis on primary field data. In fact, many successful research topics are based on published data. The emphasis, therefore, should be more on written analysis, interpretation, evaluation and the development of an argument than on the techniques of data collection and processing. It is vital that the methodology of the essay is tailored to the research question and allows for an in-depth investigation.

Appropriate resources for an extended essay in geography could include both primary and secondary data—books, newspapers and magazines, interviews, the Internet, maps, aerial photographs and satellite images, digital landscape simulations, video, CD, DVD, GIS, diagrams and models.

The geographical context in which the research is being conducted should be clearly outlined, usually with the aid of one or more maps and, where relevant, photographs or satellite images.

Geographical data is of little value unless it is analysed, using appropriate geographical, statistical, graphical or qualitative techniques, and then critically evaluated.

Illustrations and maps

It is essential that a geography extended essay is supported by appropriate methods for illustrating information/data, such as diagrams, sketch maps, tables and graphs. Wherever these are derived from other sources, these sources must be acknowledged.

Good essays usually have maps near the start to place the investigation in a clear geographical context. All maps should give an indication of orientation and scale, and include a key. Any maps derived from other sources should be clearly marked with the map reference number and the publisher, and the source of any base maps that have not been constructed by the student should be given. Using only photocopied maps, or those printed from commercial computer software, is rarely effective and provides little evidence of map skills.

The use of sketch maps and labelled or annotated diagrams as support information is highly encouraged. Maps constructed by the student on a computer are to be encouraged and it is a good idea to state the software program used. Hand-drawn maps should be neat and clear, and employ the use of colour shading, a scale and a key where appropriate.

Photographs, if included, should be essential to the essay and not included merely for decoration. As such, they should be labelled or carry a written explanation of the points they are intended to illustrate.

Interpreting the assessment criteria

Criterion A: research question

The research question must be focused, appropriate to the subject of geography, give the essay a spatial context and encourage an investigative approach. In geography, many successful essays develop the research question through the formulation of a hypothesis or hypotheses.lf students do this, it is important to ensure that hypotheses are well constructed, testable, have a basis in geographical theory and involve appropriate investigative channels. The best essays have a limited number of hypotheses. Too many hypotheses can result in an essay that is unfocused or fragmented.

It is equally acceptable for the research question to examine a geographical issue, conflict or problem, which may be formulated as a proposition or statement for discussion.

The research question must be clearly stated in the abstract and in the introduction. It must be framed in a way that discourages a descriptive or narrative approach, and that encourages argument and discussion.

Criterion B: introduction

It is important to put the research question into a locational and theoretical context. The introduction should, therefore, clearly outline the scale and location of the investigation, and demonstrate how the topic relates to current geographical knowledge and theory. An indication should be given as to why the topic was chosen and why it warrants investigation. The introduction should be clear and concise. Care must be taken to avoid over-lengthy discourses on theoretical background.

Criterion C: investigation

It is important that the investigation uses a range of sources of information that may include data such as those listed in the "Treatment of the topic" section. The information selected must be relevant to the topic and should provide the evidence that will be used to support the argument. The essay must use data/information that is sufficient (in quality and quantity), for example, questionnaires must have enough respondents to make the findings valid. It is not essential, however, that fieldwork data forms the basis of the investigation: published data sources are also valid.

The proper planning of the essay involves the adoption of a methodology that begins with the collection and selection of appropriate information, leads to a systematic analysis with valid results, interpretation and conclusions, and ends with a critical evaluation of the evidence and the approach adopted.

Criterion D: knowledge and understanding of the topic studied

Knowledge and understanding of the theoretical background and an awareness of the academic context are essential to a good essay. This should be achieved through the integration of the student's own ideas with current geographical thought, using both primary and secondary sources.

Criterion E: reasoned argument

Essays that are largely narrative or descriptive cannot score highly on this criterion. The best essays develop an argument, backed up with evidence, to convince the reader of the validity of their findings. The argument may be personal, but at the same time must remain logical and balanced. In geography, evidence may be presented in graphic as well aswritten form, using appropriate maps, diagrams, sketches, photographs and charts/graphs.

Where relevant, the argument should present evidence that leads towards the acceptance or rejection of the original hypotheses. In the context of the investigation of an issue, conflict or problem, bias should be avoided.

Criterion F: application of analytical and evaluative skills appropriate to the subject

Much of the evidence presented in support of an argument in a geography essay comesfrom the analysis of data. This involves the use of appropriate analytical techniques and the application of relevant tests of significance. Among the valid techniques characteristic of geographical inquiry are the use of interaction and gravity models, network analysis, correlation techniques, measures of dispersion, sampling techniques and standard error calculations. Where the data Is qualitative, appropriate analytical techniques should be employed. The element of personal evaluation is important when interpreting the results of data analysis. The investigation should show some awareness of the authenticity, validity, and limitations of the data and the methods used.

Where data has not been used, the essay must still incorporate a critical analysis and evaluation of the information.

It may be that the results of the analysis are unexpected or do not seem to fit established patterns.

Students should not be discouraged by this. Some of the best essays have emerged when students have had to reconsider and re-evaluate their original ideas, and modify their argument accordingly. Such an awareness of the need to make constant adjustments and corrections, and to recognize shortcomings, is an essential element of research.

Criterion G: use of language appropriate to the subject

Geographical terminology and vocabulary must be used accurately and appropriately throughout the essay . It is important to adopt an objective style that avoids lengthy personal statements and opinions, and that communicates geographical information and ideas in a clear and precise manner.

Criterion H: conclusion

The conclusion should synthesize the findings of the investigation and briefly reiterate the evidence he relevant to the research question. The essay should state, where relevant, which hypotheses have been se accepted or rejected and why. Hypotheses that have been rejected may be modified or replaced, suggesting new avenues of investigation.

The conclusion should critically evaluate the appropriateness of the methodology and acknowledge any flaws or limitations in the investigative process. Any unresolved questions that have arisen from the an research should be introduced at this stage.

The conclusion should not be an emotive personal statement relating to an issue, conflict or problem,nor should it introduce new information that has not been discussed in the argument.

Criterion I: formal presentation

This criterion relates to the extent to which the Essay conforms to academic standards about the way in which research papers should be presented. The presentation of essays that omit a bibliography or that do not give references for quotations is deemed unacceptable (level 0). Essays that omit one of the required elements—title page,table of contents, page numbers—aredeemed no better than satisfactory (maximum level 2), while essays that omit two of them are deemed poor at best (maximum level 1).

All illustrative material referred to In the body of the essay (maps, photographs, field sketches, charts and so on) should be located at relevant points, not collected at the end of the essay or in appendices. It should be well set out, and used to enhance the written text and clarify explanations.

Large data tables, large published maps referred to in the text, transcripts of interviews or an extensive series of calculations should be placed in the appendices. Field notes need not be included as an appendix, although it is a good idea to include one completed form in the case of questionnaires.

Where possible,the title, map reference number, date and publisher should be given for all maps consulted; and the source of all data, diagrams, graphs , charts, tables and photographs must be given.

Criterion J: abstract

The abstract should clearly state the research question; give a brief account of how the investigation was carried out, the methods that were used and the types of Information that were gathered;and summarize the findings as stated in the conclusion.

Criterion K: holistic judgment

Qualities that are rewarded under this criterion include the following.

  • Intellectual initiative: Ways of demonstrating this in geography essays include formulating a challenging research question, employing innovative or inventive methods of data collection and data analysis, and producing a work of originality.
  • Depth of understanding and insight: These are most likely to be demonstrated through the ability of the student to:
    • grasp the theoretical background to the topic and keep it central to the investigation use reflection in the development of the argument and critical evaluation of the essay select and use imaginative illustrative techniques
    • overcome problems that arise
    • modify ideas in light of new evidence.


      International Baccalaureate Organization. (2007). Geography. In IBO Extended essay guide, First examinations 2009, (pp. 97-102). New York: International Baccalaureate Organization.

IB students around the globe fear writing the Extended Essay, but it doesn't have to be a source of stress! In this article, I'll get you excited about writing your Extended Essay and provide you with the resources to get an A.    

If you're reading this article, I assume you're an IB Student getting ready to write your Extended Essay. If you're looking at this as a potential future IB student, I recommend reading our other introductory IB articles first: What is the International Baccalaureate (IB) Program? and What is the IB Curriculum? What are IB Diploma Requirements?


Why Should You Trust My Advice?

I'm a recipient of an IB Diploma, and I happened to receive an A on my IB Extended Essay. If you don’t believe me, the proof is in the IBO pudding,

If you're confused by what this report means, EE is short for Extended Essay, and English A1 is the subject that my Extended Essay topic coordinated with. In layman’s terms, my IB Diploma was graded during May 2010, I wrote my Extended Essay in the English A1 category, and I received a grade A. 


What Is the Extended Essay?

The IB Extended Essay (or EE) is a 4,000 word structured mini-thesis that you write under the supervision of an advisor (an IB teacher at your school), which counts towards your IB Diploma (to learn about all of the IB diploma requirements, check out our other article). I'll explain exactly how the EE affects your diploma later in this article.

For the Extended Essay, you choose a research question as a topic; this topic needs to be approved by IBO (which is not very difficult). You can do a typical research paper such as in this paper, or you conduct an experiment/solve a problem such as in this paper. Most schools allow you to pick your advisor (an IB teacher preferably at your school, although you can also get access to one at another school through the Pamoja Education). I'll explain how to pick your IB EE advisor below. 

The IB Extended Essay must include: 

  • A cover page
  • An abstract (one-page synopsis of your essay)
  • A table of contents
  • The 4,000-word essay (which will range from 10-20 pages depending on whether your topic requires illustrations such as an experiment would)
  • A bibliography
Your completed Extended Essay will then sent to the IBO to be graded (I will go into more detail on grading below). 



What Should You Write About in Your Extended Essay?

You can technically write about anything, so long as the IBO approves it. However, you should choose a topic that falls into one of theIB Course Categories, (such as Theatre, Film, Spanish, French, Math, Biology, etc.) which shouldn’t be difficult because there are so many class subjects. Here is a range of sample topics with the attached extended essay: 

You can see from how varied the topics are that you have a lot of freedom when it comes to picking a topic. So, how do you pick when the options are limitless? I will help you with that next:



6 Tips for Writing a Grade A Extended Essay

Below are the six key tips you need to follow to write an outstanding Extended Essay.


Tip #1: Write About Something You Enjoy 

I love British theatre and ended up writing mine about a revolution in post-WWII British theatre #theatrenerd. I really encourage anyone who pursues an IB Diploma to take the Extended Essay seriously. I ended up receiving a full-tuition merit scholarship to USC’s School of Dramatic Arts program and in my interview for the scholarship, I spoke passionately about my Extended Essay. I genuinely think my Extended Essay helped me get my scholarship.   

How do you find a topic you are passionate about? Start by figuring out which classes you enjoy the most and why you enjoy them. Do you like Math because you like to problem solve? Or do you enjoy English because you like to analyze texts?

Once you have figured out a general subject area such as Physics, you should brainstorm more specific topics by putting pen to paper. What was your favorite chapter you learned in that class? Was it astrophysics or mechanics? What did you like about that specific chapter? Is there something you want to learn more about? I recommend spending an hour on this type of brainstorming. 


Tip #2: Chose a Topic That Is Not Too Broad or Too Narrow

This is a fine line. You need to write about something specific, but not so specific that you can’t write 4,000 words on it. You can’t write about WWII because that would be a book's worth of material. You don’t want to write about what type of soup prisoners of war received in POW camps because you probably can’t come up with 4000 words on it. However, you could possibly write about how the conditions in German POW camps were directly affected by the Nazis successes and failures. This may be too obvious of a topic, but you get my point.

If you're really stuck trying to find a not too broad or narrow topic, I recommend trying to brainstorm a topic that uses a comparison. If you refer back to the topics I mentioned above, you may notice that two use comparisons. 

I also used comparison in my EE, comparing Harold Pinter's Party Time to John Osborne's Look Back in Anger in order to show a transition in British Theatre. Topics with comparisons of 2-3 plays/books/diets/etc. tend to be in the sweet spot of not too narrow or broad because you can analyze each portion and after doing in-depth analysis on each, you compare and explain the significance of the comparison. The key here is that the comparison needs to be significant. I compared two plays to show a transition in British Theatre.

Comparisons are not the only way to get a grade A EE. If after brainstorming, you pick a non-comparison based topic and you are still unsure if a topic is too broad or narrow, spend 30 minutes doing some basic research and see how much material is out there. If there are over 1,000 books/articles/documentaries out there on the exact topic, it may be too broad. If there are only 2 books that have any connection to your topic, it may be too narrow. If you are still unsure, ask your advisor! Speaking of advisors:


Don't get stuck with a narrow topic!



Tip #3: Choose an Advisor Who Is Familiar With Your Topic 

If you are not certain of who you would like to be your advisor, I would start by creating a list of your top three choices. Next, create a list of pros and cons (I know this sounds tedious, but it really helps!).

For example, Mr. Green is my favorite teacher, and we get along really well, but he teaches English, and I want to conduct an experiment to compare the efficiency of American Hybrid Cars to Foreign Hybrid Cars. Ms. White teaches Physics, I had her a year ago, and she liked me. She could help me design my experiment. I am going to ask Ms. White! 

Do NOT just ask your favorite teacher to be your advisor. They may be a hindrance to you if they teach another subject. I would not suggest asking your Biology teacher to guide you in writing your English EE.

EXCEPTION: If you have a teacher who is passionate and knowledgeable about your topic (as my English teacher was about my Theatre topic), you can ask that instructor. Consider all of your options first before you do. There was no theatre teacher at my school, so I could not find a theatre-specific advisor, but I chose the next best thing.

Some IB high schools require your IB Extended Essay advisor to sign an Agreement Form. Make sure you ask your IB coordinator if there is any required paperwork. IBO does not require any paperwork. If your school needs a Form signed, make sure you bring it with you when you ask a teacher to be your EE advisor. 


Tip #4: Choose an Advisor Who Will Push You to Be Your Best

Some teachers may just take on students because they have to and may not be passionate about reading drafts and may not give you a lot of feedback. Choose a teacher who will take the time to read several drafts and give you extensive notes. I would not have gotten my A without being pushed to make the draft better.

Ask a teacher that you have experience with through class or an extracurricular activity. Do not ask a teacher that you have no connection to; a teacher who does not know you is unlikely to push you. 

Note: The IBO only allows advisors to suggest improvements to the EE, but they may not be engaged in writing the EE. The IBO recommends that the supervisor spends approximately two to three hours in total with the candidate discussing the EE.


Tip #5: Make Sure Your Essay Has a Clear Structure and Flow

IB likes structure. Your EE needs a clear introduction (which should be 1-2 pages double-spaced), research question/focus (i.e. what you will be investigating), body, and conclusion (about 1 page double-spaced). An essay that has unclear or poor organization will be graded poorly. Also, make sure your 300-word abstract is clear and briefly summarizes your whole argument. An ambiguous abstract will make it more challenging for the reader to follow your essay’s argument and will also hurt the grading of your EE. 

The body of your EE should make up the bulk of the essay. It should be about 8-18 pages double-spaced (again just depending on whether or not you include diagrams). Your body can be split into multiple parts. For example, if you are doing a comparison, you might have 1/3 of your body as Novel A Analysis, 1/3 as Novel B Analysis, and the last 1/3 as Comparison of Novel A and B Analysis.

If you are conducting an experiment or analyzing data such as in this EE, your EE body will have a clear and obvious parts following the scientific method: stating the research question, discussing your method, showing the data, analyzing the data, discussing uncertainties, and drawing a conclusion/evaluating the experiment.  


Tip #6: Start Writing Sooner Rather Than Later!

You will not be able to crank out a 4,000-word essay in a week and get an A. You will be reading many, many articles (and, depending on your topic, possibly books, plays, and watching movies). Start the research possible as soon as possible. 

Each school has a slightly different deadline for the Extended Essay. Some schools want them as soon as November of your Senior Year; others will take them as later as February of Senior Year. Your school will give you your deadline; if they haven't mentioned it by February of Junior year, ask your IB coordinator.

Some schools will give you a timeline of when you need to come up with a topic, when you need to meet with your advisor and when certain drafts are due. Not all schools do. Ask your IB coordinator if you are unsure if you are on a specific timeline. Here is my recommended timeline, it is earlier than most schools, but it will save you so much heartache (trust me, I remember):

  • January/February of Junior Year: Come up with your final research topic (or at least top 3). 
  • February of Junior Year: Approach a teacher about being your EE advisor (if he or she says no, keep asking others until you find one - see my notes above on how to pick an EE advisor). 
  • April/May of Junior Year: Submit an outline of your EE and a bibliography of potential research sources (I recommend at least 7-10) to your EE advisor. Meet with your EE advisor to discuss your outline. 
  • Summer between Junior and Senior Year: Complete your first full draft over the summer between Junior and Senior Year! I know, I know no one wants to work during the summer, but trust me this will save you so much stress come the fall when you are busy with college applications and other IB internal assessments for your IB classes. You will want to have this first full draft done because you will want to complete a couple of draft cycles as you likely won’t be able to get everything you want to say into 4000 articulate words the first time. Try to get this first draft into the best possible shape you can, so that you do not have to work on too many revisions during the school year on top of your homework/college applications/work/extracurriculars/etc.  
  • August/September of Senior Year: Turn in your first draft of your EE to your advisor and receive feedback. Work on incorporating their feedback into your essay. If they have a lot of suggestions for improvement, ask if they will read one more draft before the final draft. 
  • September/October of Senior Year: Submit second draft of EE to your advisor (if necessary) and receive their feedback. Work on creating the best possible final draft. 
  • November-February of Senior Year: Submit two copies of your final draft to your school to be sent off to IBO. You likely will not get your grade until after you graduate. 


The early bird DOES get the worm!


How’s the Extended Essay Graded?

Extended essays are marked by external assessors (examiners appointed by the IB) on a scale of 0 to 36. There are "general" and "subject-specific" criteria, at a ratio of 2:1 (24 possible marks for the general criteria and 12 marks for the subject-specific one). The total mark is converted into a grade from A to E, using the below parameters:

Rubric Assessment Points Earned Descriptor Letter
Grade 30 – 36Excellent: A
25 – 29Good: B
17 – 24Satisfactory: C
9 – 16Mediocre: D
0 - 8Elementary: E

Here is the typical breakdown of scores (from 2008):

% Awarded Grade






Extended Essay






How Does the Extended Essay Grade Affect Your IB Diploma?

The Extended Essay grade is combined with your TOK (Theory of Knowledge) grade to determine how many points you get towards your IB Diploma. To learn about Theory of Knowledge or how many points you need to receive your IB Diploma, read our other articles on What is the International Baccalaureate (IB) Program? or IB Diploma Requirements. This diagram shows how the two scores are combined to determine how many points you receive for your IB diploma (3 being the most, 0 being the least). 



So, let’s say you get an A on your EE and a B on TOK, you will get 3 points towards your diploma. Note: this chart is slightly outdated. Prior to the class of 2010, a diploma candidate could receive a failing grade in either the extended essay or theory of knowledge and still be awarded a diploma. However, as of 2014 (for the first examination in May 2015), a student who scores an E on either the extended essay or TOK essay will not be eligible to receive an IB diploma.


Sample Extended Essays

In case you want a little more guidance on how to get an A EE. Here are 50 Excellent (grade A) sample extended essays for your reading pleasure:  


What’s Next?

Trying to figure out what extracurricular you should do? Learn more about participating in Science Olympiad, starting a club, doing volunteer work, and joining Student Government. 

Studying for the SAT? Check out our complete guide to the SAT. Taking the SAT in the next month? Check out our guide to cramming. 

Not sure where you want to go to college? Check out our guide to finding your target school. Also, figure out your target SAT score or target ACT score.


Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points? We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:


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