Skip to Main Content

World Studies Extended Essay: What Makes Up a "Discipline"?

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

What Makes Up a "Discipline"?

University graduation - Britannica ImageQuestWhen you are deciding which IB subjects to use as the lenses for your WSEE topic, you should consider the four different aspects of any academic discipline:

Disciplinary purpose

Knowledge base

Disciplinary methods

Forms of communication

Disciplinary Purpose

Disciplinary inquiry is purposeful

  • We seek to understand the past and enrich our sense of ourselves (in history).
  • We seek to explain, control and predict natural or social phenomena (in physics, biology, economics).
  • We enjoy exploring the human condition or expressing an idea or a feeling (in literature or the arts).

Targeted inquiries also serve specific purposes. Concepts and findings in one discipline are often applied in another, new context to solve problems, create products or explain phenomena.

Questions to ask:

When you are considering whether to include a specific discipline in the design of your research, you should ask yourself:

  • What is the purpose of inquiry in this discipline?
  • What is the discipline helpful for?
  • How might this discipline contribute to my study?

Knowledge Base

Disciplines hold a rich knowledge base (concepts and findings) on which to draw.

Disciplinary understanding involves the capacity to move flexibly between theories, concepts and specific examples. For example:

  • We understand a historical period like the rise of Nazi Germany when we can offer one or more overarching narratives that explain it and illustrate it with particular events, actors, places and dates.
  • We understand a biological phenomenon like genetic inheritance when we can articulate and apply accepted theoretical principles to particular cases and findings.

Questions to ask

When you are considering the range of disciplines available to you to form the basis of your research, you should ask yourself:

  • What do I need to know about my interdisciplinary topic that may make this disciplinary perspective useful?
  • What are some of the big ideas, key concepts or theories in this discipline that may inform my work?
  • Are there findings, examples and cases related to these big ideas that will help me understand my topic?

Disciplinary Methods

All disciplines have preferred methods—modes of inquiry and criteria by which knowledge is deemed acceptable.

For example:

  • History—interpretation of primary and secondary sources, the evaluation of actors’ perspectives.
  • Biology/chemistry/physics—designing a laboratory experiment to test a given hypothesis.
  • Mathematics—the art of advancing mathematical proof.

Different disciplines also hold distinct criteria for determining what is an acceptable result or a trustworthy conclusion.  In their interdisciplinary research, students must use the inquiry methods of at least one of the disciplines they study.

Questions to ask

When you are considering the range of disciplines available to you to decide which of their methods to use, you should ask yourself:

  • What forms of inquiry does the study of my problem require?
  • What are the methods by which knowledge is constructed in this particular discipline? Could they contribute to my study? How?
  • What specific tools and instruments are deemed helpful to inquiry in this discipline and would these help me?
  • What is deemed a reliable result in this discipline and would these standards apply to my study?

Forms of Communication

Disciplines have preferred forms of communication.

For example:

  • historical narrative
  • scientific report
  • policy briefing
  • curating a museum exhibit.

Each activity employs a particular form or style in order to communicate with its audience effectively. Disciplines favor the symbol system and form that suit their content and meet the standards or model that their expert community expects to see.

When you are doing academic writing, you will communicate the most effectively when you are reflecting such disciplinary standards. When you are preparing to write your EE, take a look at the models of communication typical of the disciplines you are relying on.

Questions to ask

  • How can I best communicate my study, results and conclusions?
  • What are the genres, languages and symbols that are typically used in the disciplines I have chosen? For example:
    • essays
    • graphs
    • scientific reports
    • poster presentations
    • videos.
  • Are there particular disciplinary genres that I could use to communicate my results?

WSEE Documents

WSEE Subject Guide and worksheets

RRS (Researcher's Reflection Space)

RPPF (Researcher's Planning and Progress Form) examples:

IB Extended Essay Guide & Timeline

Check the Extended Essay guide for specific guidance on completing the various steps in the research and writing process of the EE, and these documents:

Quick Links

NoodleTools Links

For help push button - Britannica ImageQuest

Tutorials! Learn NoodleTools basics with 60-second videos and labeled screenshots.


Really stuck?  Try...


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