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What Is the Research Question in IB?

types of research questions

As a seasoned IB writer, I’ve seen firsthand how the International Baccalaureate (IB) program molds students into knowledgeable individuals. Central to this transformation is the concept of research questions. Understanding the research question meaning is crucial in the IB context. It’s more than just a query; it’s the heartbeat of your entire project.

Definition of Research Question

In my experience, a research question forms the foundation of your academic inquiry. It’s a carefully formulated, thought-provoking statement that guides your writing. Think of it as the map for your intellectual path.

So, what is research question? This is the pillar upon which the entire project stands. From my perspective, a research question in the IB context is a clear, focused query that drives your investigation and shapes your learning.

In the IB, research questions are critical in shaping the direction of a student’s exploration. They are thoughtfully formulated queries that challenge students to think critically and analytically. According to general IB criteria, a good research question should be specific, measurable, and appropriately complex, reflecting the program’s rigorous standards.

Formulating these questions requires a blend of creativity and academic rigor. A well-formulated research question in IB should lead to a meaningful investigation and ultimately contribute to a deeper understanding of the subject. It should be open-ended enough to allow for thorough exploration yet focused enough to be answerable within the constraints of the project.

The beauty of research questions in IB lies in their ability to inspire students to engage with their subjects profoundly and personally. These questions encourage students to go far from textbook learning, allowing them to apply their knowledge to real-world scenarios. It improves their learning experience and prepares them for academic and professional challenges.

So, the research questions meaning is very straightforward. These are engines that drive intellectual curiosity and academic growth. For example, a well-formulated question in an essay can transform an ordinary project into extraordinary writing.

Types of Research Questions in IB

As an IB educator, I have encountered a fascinating array of research questions, each tailored to the unique demands of the IB curriculum. These questions, crucial in steering the course of a student’s inquiry, come in various forms. Firstly, let’s look at the different options that one might encounter in the IB program:

  • Descriptive Questions. These questions describe the characteristics of a phenomenon or a subject. For example, “What are the main themes in Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’?”
  • Comparative Questions. Such questions involve comparing different elements, like “How do the economic policies of Country X differ from those of Country Y?”
  • Causal Questions. These questions are about investigating cause-and-effect relationships. An example could be, “What is the impact of global warming on polar bear populations in the Arctic?”
  • Predictive Questions. These look to predict a future outcome based on current trends or data, such as “What will artificial intelligence’s impact on job markets by 2030?”
  • Exploratory Questions. These questions are used to explore new areas with little existing knowledge. For instance, “What potential applications could nanotechnology have in renewable energy?”
The Research Question in IB

Now, integrating these types of questions in research project requires careful consideration. The choice of question type should align with the objectives of your study and the methodology you plan to employ. For instance, a comparative or causal question might be most appropriate if your project involves a detailed analysis of historical events. On the other hand, if you’re venturing into a relatively unexplored area, an exploratory question could be more fitting.

Furthermore, the formulation of these questions demands precision and clarity. In the IB context, where research is not just about finding answers but also about understanding complexities and developing critical thinking, framing your question can significantly influence the depth and scope of your investigation.

Research Questions in Different IB Subjects

I’ve observed that research questions vary significantly across different IB subjects. Each subject has its unique focus and approach, which dictates the nature of the research questions formulated by students.

Science (Biology, Chemistry, Physics)

In these subjects, research questions often probe into the workings of the natural world. For instance, in Biology, a student might ask, “How does the introduction of a non-native species affect the biodiversity of a local ecosystem?” Chemistry students might formulate questions like, “What are the effects of varying pH levels on the rate of an enzymatic reaction?” In Physics, a question could be, “How do different materials affect the efficiency of solar cells?”


These research questions typically involve investigating mathematical theories or applying mathematical models to solve real-world problems. A question might be, “How can calculus be used to optimize the design of a roller coaster for maximum safety and excitement?”


Research questions in History often involve analysis of past events to understand their causes and consequences. A typical question could be, “What were the key factors leading to the fall of the Berlin Wall, and what were its global implications?”


In Geography, students might consider the interaction between humans and their environment. A possible research question could be, “How have urbanization trends in the past decade impacted the natural landscape of the Amazon rainforest?”

Language and Literature

These subjects might focus on literary analysis or linguistic studies. A student might ask, “How does the use of symbolism in Orwell’s ‘1984’ contribute to its dystopian theme?” or “What are the linguistic impacts of social media on teenage communication?”

Visual Arts

Research questions here often involve looking at the artistic techniques, history, or the impact of art on society. A question could be, “How has modern digital technology influenced traditional photography techniques?”

Theory of Knowledge (TOK)

In TOK, students formulate types of research questions about the nature of knowledge and learning. An example might be, “What is the role of language in shaping our understanding of the world?”

Real-World Examples of IB Research Questions

Drawing from my rich experience in the International Baccalaureate program, I can share some real-world examples of IB research questions:

  • “How does the concentration of industrial pollutants in local water sources affect the biodiversity of aquatic invertebrates?” This question was posed by a student investigating environmental impact and showcased an impressive blend of fieldwork and laboratory analysis.
  • “Can using natural, locally sourced materials effectively create cost-efficient solar cells?” A student curious about renewable energy and sustainable technology researched this innovative idea.
  • “What is the efficiency of different shapes of wind turbine blades in generating electricity under varying wind conditions?” This question reflects a student’s engagement with renewable energy sources and practical application of physics principles.
  • “How can mathematical modeling be used to predict and manage traffic flow in urban areas?” This project demonstrated the student’s interest in applying mathematical theories to solve everyday challenges.
  • “What were the socio-economic impacts of the Silk Road on ancient civilizations?” A student digs into this historical research question to highlight the interconnectivity of cultures and economies in ancient times.
  • “How have changes in land use patterns in the Amazon Rainforest affected local climate conditions over the past 50 years?” This inquiry into human-environment interactions required historical data analysis and an understanding of ecological concepts.
  • “How have modern digital technologies influenced traditional Japanese printmaking techniques?” A student artistically highlights the intersection of technology and traditional art forms.
  • “How do cultural perspectives influence the interpretation of scientific data in different communities?” This TOK question challenged students to think about the nature of knowledge and its interpretation.

These examples illustrate the vast scope of research within the IB curriculum. Each question is a testament to the student’s ability to identify and investigate complex issues, demonstrating academic rigor and deep engagement with the world.

Common Mistakes in Formulating IB Research Questions

Numerous students need help with the challenging task of formulating research questions. While many succeed, there are common pitfalls that can hinder the process:

  • A common mistake is creating a research question that is too broad. Questions like “What is the impact of climate change?” lack specificity and can lead to overwhelming information. It’s essential to narrow down the focus.
  • Some students, to impress, choose overly complex or highly technical topics. However, if the question is too intricate, it might be challenging to find sufficient resources or to address it thoroughly within the constraints of the project.
  • As far as I know, each IB subject has specific criteria for research. A standard error is choosing a question that doesn’t align with these criteria, leading to challenges in meeting the assessment objectives.
  • From my experience, students sometimes select a research question based on what they think will be impressive rather than what genuinely interests them. This lack of personal engagement can result in a lackluster project.
  • Conversely, some questions are too narrow, limiting the scope of research. For instance, a question that can be answered with a simple yes or no, such as “Does light travel faster than sound?” lacks depth and does not allow for extensive research or analysis.
  • It’s essential to consider the feasibility of the research. Some students overlook the availability of resources, time constraints, or the need for specific expertise or equipment.
  • Connecting theoretical concepts with practical examples or case studies is crucial, particularly in TOK or the Extended Essay. A research question that fails to make this connection can lead to a disjointed and unsatisfying inquiry.

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 word count and stringent IB criteria but also reflects your passion for the selected IB group.

Also, remember that ethical considerations are paramount in subjects like Psychology or Biology. Choosing a question that ignores these aspects can compromise the study and conflict with IB’s ethical guidelines.


In summary, formulating an exceptional research question is a skill at the heart of your IB path. It’s a point that should ignite curiosity and drive your investigation forward. A well-defined research question is your first step toward a successful IB project. So, good luck, and remember that our team of Extended Essay Writers is always ready to help!

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