How to write your IA? (student handout)

Lesson notes

The following page contains the handout that I provide to my students to help them with the IA process.  It contains instructions and structure which I would advise your students to follow carefully.

How to write your IA? - choosing an article

The first step in the process is to find a suitable commentary.  The easiest way is to search for an article, via the Internet and you will be able access articles by putting suitable command terms into a search engine.  The three commentaries need to be taken from different parts of the syllabus, so you must choose 3 out of the four syllabus areas - microeconomics, macroeconomics, international economics and development economics.  Read through several articles before making your selection.  Articles can be in any language but will need to be translated into the working language of the school.  All articles must be from three different sources and published no longer than 12 months before the commentary is written.  As a general rule shorter articles can be easier to use than longer ones, given the strictly enforced word limit of 800 words. If you find an article that you particularly want to use, which is very long or contains multiple points then simply highlight the sections of the article that you wish to base your IA on.

What is appropriate source for an article?

Most sources are suitable for you to use but not personal blogs, Facebook pages, advertisements, statistical tables or  government reports. While many examiners do not like the use of the “Economist” you will not be penalised for using this source.

Articles do not necessarily need to be about economics.  Candidates can apply economic theory to a number of newspaper articles.  For instance an article about the new television deal for the Premier League and its impact on players wages could easily be incorporated into a commentary about microeconomics (PED / PES theory).

Structuring an internal assessment

When writing the IA a common misconception by many IB students is that the task involves simply summarising or paraphrasing the article.  Instead examiners are looking for evidence that the candidate has related the article to the economic theory that they have learnt during their course.  Try to remember that the aim of each commentary is to demonstrate your ability in the subject. 

Try to think very carefully about what you intend to include in your commentary and not write anything which will not directly lead to marks from the criteria.  Quotes from the article are good and should be included but must be short in length – no more than 2 sentences in length.  One short sentence in length is better still.

Your commentary is about a deep understanding of one part of the course so when you start writing your commentary think first about what is the appropriate economic concept or theory and stick to this – do not jump around between topics.  For instance do not start writing a commentary about international trade and then dedicate paragraphs to the impact on national income.  This is because they are separate sections of the course and each commentary needs to be based on a separate section of the course – microeconomics, macroeconomics and International / development economics.

The structure of the commentary

When submitting your commentary you will include, for each commentary, the article itself plus the following information:

  • the title of the article
  • the source of the article, including the date accessed if extracted from the Internet
  • the date of the article
  • the word count of the commentary
  • the date the commentary was written
  • the relevant section of the syllabus.
  • the relevant concept 
Structuring your work

Try to stick to the following structure as closely as possible.  Start with your introduction, stating briefly what the central  theme of the article is and this is also where you include your definitions and command words.  This will be similar to the paper 1 examination where candidates start by writing the important key terms.  Unlike the exam, however, you are not required to write down a list of definitions.  Instead candidates are expected to use terms ‘appropriately’.  Only two marks are available for this section.  Definitions of words should only be included after you have used them in your work.  Use only economic terminology so rather than saying buyer or customer use the word consumer, expenditure rather than spending, utility rather than pleasure e.t.c.

The main skill of writing the commentary is to focus on one really important economic concept and develop it.  If there is more than one economic theory in the article, stay focused on this rather than getting distracted by other areas of the syllabus.  The IB allows you to highlight which of the features you are choosing to focus on when completing your work.  This should be around 150 words in length.

Draw the diagram

After your introduction you should draw your main diagram.  This should be given a title and be fully labelled.  None of this is included in your word count.  The diagram that you choose should be the problem explained in the article. The diagram should also include your solution to the problem.

The diagram to the right, for example, relates to an article focusing on traffic congestion in a city.  The diagram includes the social costs of the externality and the size of the welfare loss.  The equilibrium level of output (Qo) and the socially efficient level (Qse) are labelled.

Include in your diagram the following:

  • a full title such as, 'The impact of traffic congestion in a city'
  • label each axis and each line or curve.  Do not simply write price and quantity, write specific prices and quantities included in the article and label each axis e.g. price of petrol ($), quantity demanded and supplied of petrol (litres)
  • In complex diagrams you might also find it useful to allocate a letter to key intersection points.  This will make it easier to refer back to them later in your explanation.
  • lastly, shade in areas or shapes in your diagram, for instance the welfare loss as a result of the traffic congestion.
Explain your diagram (200 words)

This should be a full explanation including how the key concepts work.  Start from the basis that you are trying to explain your diagram to somebody who is not an expert in the subject.  Describe the diagram step by step.  For example in the diagram to the left we have illustrated how a tax on cars could provide a solution to a city’s congestion problems.  The imposition of a tax could be described as follows:

The government can place a tax on car journeys in the city by imposing an electronic pricing mechanism on each journey into the city.  This is shown by a left shift in the supply curve from S=MPC to S=MSC=MPC+tax, as the sales tax adds to the costs of driving.  At higher prices (P2) car owners are less willing and able to drive their cars in the city.  If the level of tax is set at the correct level, equal to the size of the negative externality, then the number of car journeys should fall to a more socially optimum level, represented on the diagram by Qse.  This policy will internalise the externality caused by traffic congestion, i.e. make the external costs to society payable by the consumer.

Sometimes both the problem and the solution can be illustrated on one diagram and on other occasions it cannot. 

Develop Your argument (100 words)

Having explained your diagram you should now focus on developing your solution and this is where you link the article to the economic theory that you have learnt in your course.  So in the example above the article may be about traffic in a city.  However, your commentary should focus on the concepts of externalities and how governments may internalise the externalities rather than the traffic itself.

Continuing from the example above we could say:

The size of the tax should be equal or greater to the size of the negative externality.  For instance if the government calculates that congestion in the city creates 100 million $ per day in external costs and there are currently 10 million cars entering the city, each day, then the size of the tax should be $ 10 per day.  

Evaluation (250 words)

Evaluation means that you should evaluate your solution to the problem, including looking at the strengths and weaknesses of the solution you have identified.  As part of this section alternative solutions e.g. improved public transport should be considered and again illustrated on your diagram, by a fall in demand for car journeys in the city.  A potential solution might also involve a combination of policies e.g. taxing car journeys and improvements to public transport. 

Key concept (new syllabus 50 words)

Commentaries under the new syllabus should add in the key concept and explain how the concept is relevant to the chosen article. 


50 words on a concluding sentence or two.


The last part of your commentary and the words included here, like the title page, diagrams e.t.c. are not included in the word count.

The above information sheet can be accessed on a PDF file at:  New syllabus

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