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How to Write a History Extended Essay for IB Success?

As you write the History extended essay, think about a period that fascinates you.

Having been through the IB program’s roller coaster, I’ve picked up a thing or two about writing the ideal History extended essay. Now, let me share my experience to guide you on this academic task.

IB History Extended Essay: Assessment Criteria & Word Count

First and foremost, let’s talk about the word count. The maximum limit for an IB extended essay is 4,000 words. However, this does not include the abstract, footnotes, bibliography, or appendices. Sticking to this limit is crucial; any essay exceeding this will be penalized in the assessment. It taught me an invaluable lesson in brevity and precision, ensuring every word served a purpose.

Regarding assessment criteria, the IB History extended essay is evaluated based on specific benchmarks. These include:

  • Focus/Method (6 points). It assesses the clarity of your research question, the scope of your study, and the method deployed for the research.
  • Knowledge and Understanding (6 points). Here, the emphasis is on your grasp of the chosen topic and its context. 
  • Critical Thinking (12 points). It’s a very hefty one. It evaluates the analysis, discussion, and evaluation of the essay.
  • Presentation (4 points). While content is king, presentation is equally crucial. It assesses the structure, layout, and formal elements of the essay.
  • Engagement (6 points). It reflects your engagement with the topic and how well you’ve reflected on the research process.

The IB History extended essay is not just an academic task; it’s a rite of passage for every IB student. It teaches discipline, research acumen, analytical prowess, and, most importantly, the art of presenting complex ideas in an accessible manner.

Importance of Picking the Right Extended Essay History Topics

Selecting a topic isn’t just about ticking off a checklist. It’s about laying the groundwork for an essay you’ll be invested in for months. The right topic is akin to a guiding star, keeping your research and writing focused. It’s not an overstatement to say that half the battle is won when choosing a topic that aligns well with the IB criteria and your interests.

Tips for Choosing Engaging Extended Essay Topics in History

While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach, some general pointers have stood the test of time. Remember that the topic should have sufficient resources available for research, yet it shouldn’t be so broad that it becomes overwhelming.

From what I’ve seen and experienced, topics rooted in a specific event, person, or period often yield the most compelling essays. For instance, instead of attempting to cover the entirety of World War II, you might focus on a particular campaign or a leader’s strategic decisions.

Furthermore, topics that challenge popular narratives or introduce fresh perspectives can be enriching. Not only do they offer a chance to showcase your analytical skills, but they also highlight your ability to think critically.

Lastly, always be open to feedback. Discuss your potential topics with teachers, peers, or mentors. An outsider’s perspective often clarifies or introduces angles you hadn’t considered. And if you want to find some actual History extended essay topics, follow this link to another article in our blog.

Structuring Your IB History Extended Essay

Now, onto the nitty-gritty – the structure. An organized essay is like a well-oiled machine. Each section plays a pivotal role. Start with a compelling introduction, follow it up with solid arguments, and conclude in a manner that leaves an impression. Here’s a guide on how to structure your IB History extended essay to maximize clarity and coherence.

1. Introduction: Setting the Stage

Your introduction should be clear and captivating. Begin with a brief overview of the topic to give readers a context. Follow this with your research question, setting the tone for the investigation. It’s also a good place to briefly hint at the significance or relevance of your topic in a broader historical context. Remember, the introduction is your first impression; make it count!

2. Research Question or Hypothesis

Clearly state the question you intend to answer or the hypothesis you aim to test. It provides direction and purpose to your essay.

3. Background or Historical Context

Before getting into the core arguments, provide readers with a brief background of the period, event, or phenomenon you’re examining. This foundation ensures that readers, regardless of their prior knowledge, understand the backdrop against which your research unfolds.

The foundation of any History extended essay is solid research.

4. Body: The Heart of Your Essay

Each paragraph should present a distinct argument or point substantiated with evidence. Start each section with a clear topic sentence, followed by evidence and your analysis. Ensure that the evidence you present directly supports your arguments.

5. Conclusion: Tying It All Together

Reiterate the significance of your research question and concisely summarize your main arguments. Discuss the implications of your findings and hint at areas for future research. The conclusion should leave the reader with a sense of closure and completeness.

6. Bibliography or Works Cited

Always list all the sources you consulted. Adhere to a specific citation style (like MLA, APA, or Chicago) as guided by your instructor. This section is crucial for academic integrity and to acknowledge the works of scholars and researchers you’ve referenced.

7. Appendices

If you have additional data, charts, or images that supplement your essay but might disrupt its flow, include them in the appendices.

How to Write History Extended Essay: Research and Sources

At the heart of every compelling History extended essay lies a foundation of robust research. The right blend of primary and secondary sources can enrich your narrative, offering your arguments diverse perspectives and concrete evidence. However, not all sources are created equal. In my time grappling with historical essays, I learned that the credibility of your sources could make or break your work:

  • Primary sources – like letters, diaries, treaties, artifacts, or contemporary records – offer firsthand accounts of the events. They’re the raw materials, providing a direct window into the past. While they are invaluable, it’s essential to approach them with a critical lens, considering the context in which they were produced and potential biases they might carry.
  • Secondary sources, such as books, academic papers, and historians’ interpretations, provide a step back. They offer analyses, building upon primary sources and prior research. These are great for understanding the broader context and seeing where your research fits into the larger historical discourse.

However, a word of caution! In the digital age, while access to information has become more accessible, so has the proliferation of inaccurate or biased content. Constantly evaluate the reliability of your sources. Who’s the author? What’s their background? Is the publication reputable? Cross-referencing facts with multiple reliable sources is an excellent habit to cultivate.

Organizing Your Research Effectively

Research for an extended essay isn’t done in a day or two; it’s a prolonged process, and without a system, it’s easy to lose track or get overwhelmed. So, start with a research log. Whenever you find a potential source, jot down its details and key points or quotes you might want to reference. It saves time later and ensures you keep track of valuable information.

Need help with your IB extended essay?

From research and analysis to structuring and editing, our skilled mentors will be by your side, helping you craft an exceptional extended essay that not only meets the wordcount and stringent IB criteria but also reflects your passion for selected IB group.

Another helpful tactic is categorizing sources based on themes or arguments they’ll support in your essay. It can be done using physical index cards, digital tools like Evernote, or simple spreadsheets. Color coding can also be a visually effective method to differentiate between primary and secondary sources or historical themes.

Remember to refine and prune your sources constantly. Only some things you come across will make the final cut. As your essay evolves, specific sources might become redundant or less relevant. It’s okay to let them go.

Lastly, back up your research. There’s nothing worse than losing weeks of work to a technical glitch. Regularly save your work on cloud storage, external drives, or printed copies.

Writing IB History EE with Clarity and Precision

Historical writing is a dance between fact and narrative.

Here are some techniques that have stood me in good stead:

  • Thesis Statement. Every History extended essay should have a clear thesis or central argument.
  • Topic Sentences. Begin each paragraph with a clear topic sentence. It directs the paragraph and makes your essay more navigable for readers.
  • Concrete Evidence. Always back up your claims with evidence from reliable sources. Quoting primary sources lends authenticity to your arguments.
  • Different Sentence Structures. While clarity is critical, variety keeps the reader engaged. Mix short, impactful sentences with longer, more descriptive ones.
  • Consistent Tense. In historical writing, it’s easy to jumble past and present tenses. Decide on a tense (usually past for historical events) and stick to it.
  • Active Voice. While passive voice isn’t incorrect, active voice makes your writing more dynamic and direct.
  • Transition Phrases. These are the bridges between your ideas, ensuring a smooth flow. Phrases like “furthermore,” “however,” or “in contrast” guide the reader through your arguments.
  • Personal Insight. While working within the boundaries of historical facts, feel free to offer your interpretations or insights, especially if you can back them up with evidence.

And, of course, as I’ve come to value deeply over the years, proofread, proofread, and proofread some more. It isn’t just about catching typos but refining arguments, improving flow, and ensuring clarity.

History Extended Essay Examples: Learning from the Best

Examining stellar History extended essay examples is one of the best ways to understand what works. They offer a practical insight into structure, content, and presentation. Reading a well-crafted essay can sometimes spark ideas or approaches you hadn’t previously considered.

While samples are invaluable, remember to maintain your unique voice. The individual touch, rigorous research, and clarity will make your IB History EE stand out.


In wrapping up, always reflect upon your path in writing a History extended essay. From my experience, the process often offers as much learning as the content itself.

There’s a world of resources out there for the keen IB student. Be it books, online databases, or writing tools, always rely on reputable sources. Your essay reflects your hard work; ensure you give it the best. You can always contact us if you need help writing an extended essay.

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