Skip to Main Content

Extended Essay: Step 10. Plan a structure for your essay

A guide to the research and writing process required for students completing the IB Extended Essay.

How to Write an Outline

One way to plan a structure for your essay is by writing an outline.  An outline breaks down the parts of your thesis in a clear, hierarchical manner. Most students find that writing an outline before beginning the paper is most helpful in organizing one's thoughts. If your outline is good, your paper should be easy to write. Use this worksheet from the Learning & Advising Center at Philadelphia University to help with writing your own outline.

WHEN to write an outline - Timing is critical to writing an outline.  Outlining is best done as a middle stage in the writing process, not at the very beginning.  Follow these steps in the order given before attempting an outline:
          1. Read, gather information, and think about your essay topic
          2. Take notes, jot down ideas, use your Researcher's Reflection Space
           3. Generate a research question (you may need several tries)

The basic format for an outline uses an alternating series of numbers and letters, indented accordingly, to indicate levels of importance. Here is an example of an outline on a paper about the development of Japanese theater from the Universtiy at Albany, State University of New York:

Outline Notes
I. Thesis: Japanese theater rose from a popular to elite and then returned to a popular art form. The thesis is stated in the first section, which is the introduction.  NOTE: In an IB Extended Essay, the introduction must include the research question.

II. Early theatrical forms
           A. Bugaku
           B. Sarugaku
           C. Primitive Noh
           D. Authors and Audience        

III. Noh theater
          A. Authors
           B. Props
                    1. Masks

                              a. women
                              b. demons
                              c. old men
                   2. Structure of Stage
          C. Themes
                   1. Buddhist influence
                   2. The supernatural
          D. Kyogen interludes
         E. Audience 

IV. Kabuki
         A. Authors
         B. Props
                   1. make-up
                   2. special effects
         C. Themes
                   1. Love stories
                   2. Revenge
         D. Audience

V. Bunraku (puppet) theater
         A. Authors
         B. Props
         C. Themes
                   1. Love stories
                   2. Historical romances
         D. Audience

The body follows the introduction, and breaks down the points the author wishes to make.

Note that some sections have subdivisions, others do not, depending on the demands of the paper.

In this outline, II, III, & IV all have similar structure, but this will not necessarily be true for all papers. Some may only have three major sections, others more than the five given here.
VI. Conclusion Your conclusion should restate your thesis, and never introduce new material. NOTE: In an IB Extended Essay, the conclusion must provide an answer to the research question first stated in the introduction.

"How to Write an Outline." U at Albany, State U of New York. U at Albany, State U of New York, 2011. Web. 5 Dec. 2012 <>. 

Twelve-step Plan for Researching the Extended Essay - Step 10

10.  Plan a structure for the essay.  This may change as the research develops but it is useful to have a sense of direction from the start.


West Sound Academy Library | PO Box 807 |16571 Creative Drive NE | Poulsbo, WA 98370 | 360-598-5954 | Contact the librarian