How to Write Your Extended Essay (Getting Started)
Starting your Extended Essay is a big challenge.
The best advice I can give you is start early and choose your research question carefully. Starting early is a time-management aspect you'll have to figure out on your own. But I can help you a lot on the second part.
Coming up with an appropriate question is about 25% of the whole battle. Your supervisor can help you with this, but often they'll leave it to you.
And you’ll want to be very careful here. With the right question almost anything is possible. With the wrong question, you're setting yourself up to fail. Most students brainstorm possible ideas, ask for suggestions and read successful EE samples (which are often available in your high school library). But I want to help you to do better than the average student. The following 4 tests will help you make sure your RQ is top notch.
The Four Tests
A good research question (RQ) passes the following 4 tests:
#1 Is it the right scope?
Of course the question needs to be one that is answerable within the 4000 word limit. You should be asking one relatively simple question. 4000 words seems like a lot right now, but (after a few months of research and writing) it won’t.
Try to make your question as focused (small) as possible. A question like, "Has the Singapore government's approach to health care improved economic growth" is WAY too broad. That's crazy talk. Why? Because the government has a lot of approaches to health care (thousands of them for all we know) and it's would be pretty hard to show a causal link between any of these strategies and economic growth. A question like, "Is Singapore's grocery store industry an oligopoly?" is much better. It's not too broad; however, that one's also probably too obvious. Singapore only has 2 or 3 grocery store chains, so you can pretty much answer this question on the first page. You need something that fits between these two extremes. In Singapore, it's much less clear (to me anyway) whether the movie theatre industry is an oligopoly, so you could ask, "What market structure would best characterise Singapore's movie theatre industry."
#2 Can you see which course concepts (tools) you'll use?
Are you able to identify several course concepts (analytical models) that you can use to analyse your question? In Business you'll need 4 or 5 of these. In Economics you'll need one main one and then one or two smaller ones to touch on. Obviously, if you can’t tackle the question using ideas from the course than it’s not appropriate.
As I explain here, your mission is to show off how much you understand the ideas taught in class. A common mistake (which happens slightly more in Business EE's) is to research every possible aspect of a business (maybe because your dad works there) and then expect that sharing that information will impress the marker so much that you'll get a 7. Every year there's a student who does this (normally without realising it). They think that knowing as much about the company as an insider does is enough. It is not. We just want to see that you understand course concepts and can use those to prove or disprove a thesis using course concepts.
#3 Will you have the information?
Will you actually have access to the secondary information you'll need to answer your question and will you actually be able to do the primary research required? This is a tricky one, which you won’t always be able to answer right away. However you do need to answer it really soon.
If your RQ fails test 3 you won't be able to use it.
Try to think about the concepts you'll be using (Test 2). For the economics example above (the theatre one), you might want to determine whether there is price competition, so you'd want to compare prices over time (from different theatres, in different locations, at different times, etc). That information won't be easy to get.
Test 3 is about access. EE research normally requires that someone on the inside trusts you. For a business student, if you're doing to do a SWOT analysis and some kind of investment appraisal, what data will you need to fill in those tools? Consider, what information you would need to answer those questions. Data that you expect is probably available (i.e. online) often isn't. So you’ll have to do your homework here. And the earlier the better.
If you're going to be relying on someone (i.e. that your uncle turn over a copy of his company's balance sheet) get what you need from them as soon as possible. If they don't give you the numbers or the interview that you need within a month, it's probably time to change your RQ.
This stuff isn't personal, people are busy, information is sometimes confidential.Get as much of your data as you can in the first month and show this to your supervisor. Every year there are students who don't problems related to lack of information until there are only a few months left and that's too late.
#4 Will this topic help you?
Ideally the research you do here will help you get into your preferred university program. If you're applying to an Econ program at university next year, than it would be great to have a letter from your Econ teacher explaining what a great job you did on your recent Econ EE. Or, perhaps you aren't sure if you want to pursue Business in university or not, the EE might be a great opportunity to experience what university study is like. Or maybe you're simply genuinely interested in the research question. The point here is that it's great if you have some other kind of motivation other than just finishing the EE. That will help you do better work and get ahead of the pack.
You should ask yourself whether you feel your question has passed each of these tests. Take your time and be sure. It’s okay to ask other people if they think your question passes these tests as well. And of course you can ask your teacher or your supervisor (as soon as you’ve been assigned one) if they think the RQ passes these tests.
When you meet with your supervisor
By the time you meet with your supervisor for your first real meeting you would ideally have chosen a question that you think passes the 4 Tests. And you will ideally have started to organize yourself.
Your supervisor will be interested to hear about (and see evidence of):
- Your research findings so far. Hopefully you’ve found a number of secondary sources, beyond just your text book. (Magazine and newspaper articles, annual reports from the internet, etc) and you have an idea of your primary research plans.
- And also try to be ready to explain what you think you will be able to show in your essay. You should be ready to explain how your question relates to course concepts. Forward planning. Begin to chart-out your timeline of the coming months, your to-do list.
Advanced Business Extended Essay Research
In this post, I wanted to share with you a resource straight out of latest online course: Business EE Mastery. I know a lot of you are working on your Extended Essays at the moment, so I thought you'd probably appreciate some extra help.
If you're interested, you can try-out my Business EE Mastery video course online for FREE at the moment. You might not need any more help, but if you do this works and I'm happy to help. Either way, here is some info that will help you with your research:
The ability to research effectively is all about two things:
- Efficiency and
You need to know how to get the information you're looking for quickly and also, be willing to think about what you're looking for. Normally people look for the wrong information. Wrong information is information that has nothing to do with your research question. And EE students use information like this all the time. You can use some information that doesn't really relate to your RQ (for example when filling out a SWOT analysis), but you want to get and use as much highly-relevant information as you possibly can.
I've already talked to you about using a variety of research sources. That is a big part of this. It really is worth spending some time exploring different types of sources --rather than just the first page of Google results.
A few techniques to improve the quality of your research:
1) Break your RQ into sub-RQ's
If your question is, "Should we invest 1 million dollars in X?" ask yourself (and people at the company) what are the questions that need to be answered before that major question can be answered. For example maybe, for this business, the questions are:
- Can we afford it?
- Is it going to improve the satisfaction of our customers and
- Is it going to help us improve our market share?
For another business, they might be more interested in improving their efficiency, or brand image. The sub-questions help you focus your research and make sure you're seeking out information that is relevant. Sub-questions also help you justify the tools you're using. If "Can we afford this" is an important question, there are ratios you can use to convincingly answer that question.
2) Hug a librarian
Librarians often have master's degrees in being librarians. Seriously. That's an actual thing. The degree is all about how to provide assistance to people like you. I myself have 3 university degrees already. I edit academic papers for Economists. And, I ask librarians for help. They simply know things about how their computer systems work that I don't.
If your High School library isn't so sophisticated to need any help from a librarian to navigate, get yourself to a college campus or to the biggest library in your city and ask the librarians there for help. Honestly, you'll be impressed by helpful they can be.
3) Use your sources' sources
Everyone knows you shouldn't use Wikipedia as a source, but you can normally use the sources that Wikipedia cites at the bottom of their pages.
The Wikipedia article on Singapore cites 355 (!!!) different sources and then it also shows a whole list of "External Links" --general information on Singapore: profiles from the BBC, economic forecasts, etc. This is great information. It's already organised and the Wikipedia people have probably made sure these links are reliable.
You can use the sources of your sources just as easily for an academic article you find on Google Scholar. Professional researchers are so careful about the sources they use. They're not going to base their findings on junk. If you can find an article that's very much related to thing you're researching (i.e. "Prospects for Organic Food production in Italy" --or whatever you're studying you'll find a goldmine in the Work Cited area.
Obviously you will have to track down these sources and read them yourself. Don't just pretend that you used all these impressive-sounding sources. :)
4) Come at it from a different direction
I've explained the value of proxy data in this article I wrote on my website --which is worth a read. Basically, sometimes when you're trying to find good information about one thing you can't find it. But you could find something very similar and use that. For example, if you need to know about Smart Phones sales in Ecuador, you could use information about Smart Phone sales in Peru. Just mention that Peru has twice the population of Ecuador and that "their might be other reasons that this data might not be a reliable indicator" and you're done. You now have an indicator of how Smart Phone sales might be in Ecuador.
There are a lot of ways you can do this. For example, you can use information about how one organic food item has done and use that as an indicator of how another one might do. And, even if you're not going to use proxy data, often you can ask a slightly different question (i.e. in your Google search) to get some really valuable insights. Your question could be either more general or more specific, or you could look at a different aspect of the problem (liquidity, rather than gearing for example). The possibilities are endless. Just try to look at it from a different perspective.
5) Use Google's Advanced Search
Everyone thinks they know how to do a proper Google search, but some people are really good at it!
Google's Advanced search will help you narrow down your search. You can say you only want to see PDF's related to your search term and this might show you some academic or industry articles you can use. Or, you could specify that you only want recent articles. Or you could specify that you only want .edu sites, for example.
Remember, while you're Googling, don't forget to look up the trade journal for your industry. Business owners pay sometimes $2000 a year just for 2 or 3 of these magazines each year because they're filled with secret research about the industry.
6) Prepare for your interviews
The people you interview (i.e. at the company) are really knowledgeable, but they're going to talk to you like you don't know much if you haven't done your homework. Go in their asking, "So, hey, ummm... how's the business these days?" and you won't learn much. Instead ask them why they think the ROCE has decreased by 21% in the past year, while the gearing has increased by 3%.
Ask specific, focused questions and you'll get really valuable responses. Most people start with their research with the interviews, so they can make sure they're on a reasonable path and that's not a terrible idea. But I would recommend two things:
- Always do some research BEFORE an interview, so you're not wasting anyone's time and so they respect the work you're trying to do, and
- Try to save at least one major interview for the point when you're at least 3/4 done your secondary research. This is a good idea for about 10 different reasons. You'll be able to ask really insightful questions. You'll already know what's important to you and to your RQ. And you'll probably get offered a job too! :) Right? They'll just be blown away that a 17 year old can know so much. Find out what this person thinks the problem is. Find out what they think the future of the company is. Use this as prep for your career. Ask the questions you want answers.
Again, if you're interested, you can try-out my Business EE Mastery video course online for free at the moment. If you're happy doing it on your own, this page has some more really good tips to help you at this stage.
All the best!!