The Research Question

What makes a good essay?

A good research question

Choosing the research question is perhaps the single most important factor in determining the success of the EE.

What makes a good research question?

  • It is clearly focused
  • It addresses a topic that is genuinely interesting to the student
  • The outcome of the investigation is to be discovered, not preconceived
  • It takes an original angle or point of view
  • It provides ample opportunity for research

The EE topic must be formulated as a Research Question, not as a statement.

The process of writing the essay is a journey of discovery; the student doesn't necessarily know what the outcome will be. This is why we call it a Research Question. As an EE examiner the most frequent problems I encounter when marking EEs is the lack of a focused research question, or a topic that is to general or broad in scope.

Examples of some generic research questions and how they became focused, specific ones

Food in Art becomes What is the Allegorical role of food in 17th Century Dutch Still Life Painting?

Graffiti, Art or Crime? becomes a site specific investigation of graffiti in the student's own city, with examples of artistic graffiti and graffiti as vandalism. ( with good use of primary sources) How does graffiti in xxx contribute to the visual culture of the city?

Andy Warhol's Pop Art becomes How is Andy Warhol's Factory a Model for Art Production?

Rembrandt's Portraits becomes How do Rembrandt's self portraits reflect a Changing View of Self?

Brainstorming Activity

A good way to come up with an interesting and focused research question is to start with the general topic of interest and make a mind map. Once you've made a mind map, you can begin to look at the possible areas of investigation and hone in on a specific aspect of the topic. It also helps to do this in pairs.

1.Choose a topic of interest: Surrealism ( this is by the way, a very popular topic among this age group)

2.Mindmapping to explore the different areas of possible focus: history, symbolism, illusionism, dreams, individual artists

3.Narrowing down the topic, forming a working research question, for example:

Can Frida Kahlo be considered a Surrealist?

Go to Visual Arts EE Topics for some examples of research questions or visit the Sample Extended Essays page

" A Working Research Question"

Don't worry about the precise wording of the RQ in the early stages, it can be modified and refined over the course of the research and defined precisely in the final stages. The important thing is to have a clear idea of the path of investigation to follow.

Download Teacher notes on Formulating the Research Question

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