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TOK Essay - OFFICIAL Guide

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How to choose your essay topic: the things to keep in mind

So people, I had a few members ask me on Skype how one chooses a TOK essay topic, so I'd previously compiled a file to help people on that sort of dilemma. Unfortunately I realize that many non-VIP members would not get access to it. Thus I've created this thread to help people out. I've thinned down my guide a bit to make it easier to read. Also feel free to add your own suggestions!

How to choose your essay topic: the things to keep in mind

All TOK essay titles share basic features with other titles. They all:

· -Arise from the TOK course

· -Contain references to key TOK elements (AOKs, WOKs, and/or TOK-related terms)

· -Contain action terms (words that indicate to you what your task is)

· -Point to or state knowledge issues

· -Allow different, equally valid, approaches in the essay.

In addition, some allow a certain amount of ambiguity in how the title(or some key term) is to be understood, or are based on certain assumptions with which you may not agree.


Most essays will fall into one of four different types with somewhat different emphases. Recognizing the type may assist you to address and answer the prescribed title. The different types are:

1) Titles that focus on a TOK-related term (or two), asking for evaluation across AOKs and/or WOKs.

"When Mathematicians, historians and scientists say that they have explained something, are they using the word 'explain' in the same way?"

TOK-related term: explain. AOKs: mathematics, history, natural science.

2) Titles that focus on an area of knowledge (or maybe two) and require comparison or contrast between AOKs or across WOKs, generally looking at a TOK-related term (or two)

"It is often claimed that scientific results must be replicable. Is this possible or desirable in other areas of knowledge?"

AOK: natural science. Other AOKs: your choice. TOK-related term: replicable.

3)Titles that focus upon a way of knowing (or maybe two), and require comparison with other WOKs or across AOKs, generally looking at a TOK related term (or two)

"Some people say that religious beliefs can be neither justified nor refuted by reason. However, while sometimes this claim is used as a reason for rejecting religious beliefs, at other times it is used to conclude that these beliefs are established by faith. To what extent is faith a legitimate basis for knowledge claims, in religion and different areas of knowledge?"

WOK: reason. Other AOKs: religion, your choice. TOK-related terms: faith, belief.

4) Titles that focus on an example, quote or general statement, to be explored by reference to AOKs and/or WOKs and/or TOK-related terms.

General statement: authorities making knowledge claims. AOKs/WOKs: your choice. TOK-related terms: knowledge, opinion, propaganda.

Before choosing your essay title, here is a selection of questions that you can ask yourself.

· What does each title want you to do?

· Do any of the titles suit your style of learning, for example, by requiring a more critical and rational, or a more creative and imaginative approach?

· Would any of the titles allow you to focus on your academic strengths and interests, for example, the AOKs you are doing at higher level?

· Would any of the titles allow you to focus on the WOKs that you prefer to use to gain knowledge?

· For any of the titles, could you draw on your extended essay research, or your CAS activities?

· Would any of the titles allow you to focus on activities ad projects that interest you?

Hope this helps y'all out! Cheers!

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Can also as a tip mention IB Prepared's guide to Theory of Knowledge, it is an official guide to the ToK Essay and Presentation with example essays with moderator's comments as well as tips on how to choose the title, and how to approach the title you have chosen. It can be bought from the IBO's webpage, and at least I have found it to be of great use when writing my ToK Essay!

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I am dying and drowning in this ToK essay.....I have no idea how to choose my topic, and just finishing my Econ papers just decreased my productivity by 2billion percent.

My paper is due in two days, I need to start right away. The topic that i am considering is "which source of knowledge is the most reliable."

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5 Things to do Before you Finish your TOK Essay

1. Check your essay very thoroughly for assumptions

A dead give-away for if you have an assumption is "All X do Y" or anything of that type of format. Whether it's "all art is subjective", "[all] Christians disagree with the Theory of Evolution...", an assumption is a BAD thing. All art is not subjective -- unless within your essay you have argued successfully that art is without exception subjective, NEVER say something like this! For it will bring the wrath of all logically minded people down upon your essay with full-force - and on the whole TOK examiners are logically minded people, so it's their wrath you will be incurring. If you're going to make a blanket-statement or assumption where the implication is that ALL of one thing is [insert whatever here], back it up with a statistic that you can footnote or something. Otherwise, don't include it. Re-write your sentence to say "many Christians disagree with the Theory of Evolution" or something along those lines. Go back over your essay and after every statement you've written just ask yourself - have I proved this statement, or am I just assuming it to be true and then writing it down anyway? The former is okay, the latter is bad.

2. Check your essay for mystical statements

It may not surprise any of you to learn that most people, even after doing it for 2 years, still don't really understand what TOK is about. The best explanation I could ever find is that TOK is a subject for talking about the IB's little pentagram image thing with all the areas and ways of knowledge on it. Anyway, what people tend to do as a sort-of reflex to not knowing what TOK is about is to make mystical statements to make their essay sound deep, thoughtful and intellectual. For instance asking rhetorical questions "But what is beauty?"/"Can we ever really know what truth is?" that they never answer (and I wouldn't try to answer them either, they're by nature impossible!). Your essay is for arguing analytically an answer to the question they've asked which will inevitably be a question with no real answer BUT you can think of lots of examples and then conclude "ultimately it's half right and half wrong" at the end. Analytical arguments do not need rhetorical questions, sweeping statements about truth or anything which you've stuck in to sound impressive. If you have any of these little mystical gems ("truth is beauty"/"ultimately truth is an unknowable goal for man to strive for"/"only in knowing yourself can you achieve happiness" etc.) within your essay, ditch them!

..unfortunately this post at one point got wiped, so its re-write is still in progress!

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On 2011/1/25 at 11:39 AM, Julie said:

Basic guide to writing the essay



This guide is adapted from the works of Richard van de Lagemaat: http://www.cambridge...ets/pdf/TOK.pdf


Writing a TOK Essay

Tones of people freak out over the TOK essay when they see the topics. I know I did. It took me a lot of investigation, tips, and going to talk to my professor to figure out the process. In the end, my teacher gave me the best advice, which I have given bellow. It helped amazingly.

  • Where do I start?
  • What do I write?
  • How many paragraphs should I have?
  • How many examples should I have?
  • What about counter-arguments?
  • Can I use outside sources?
  • How do I define terms? Do I even need to define them?


All of these are common questions asked by TOK students. I have given the information bellow that I find most important for writing a solid, well-rounded, critical and organized essay. If anyone would like to add in advice or information, or give me suggestions of advice and information to add into this document, feel free, and I will get right on it.

How to Remember the Assessment Criteria

Keep in mind the Assessment Criteria when writing your TOK essay. Use it as a checklist throughout your writing process.


  • Does your essay contain each criteria, A, B, C and D?


A. Understanding knowledge issues


  • You essay is focused on knowledge issues
  • You have made links and comparisons
  • You have only relevant information
  • Your understanding of the prescribed topic is sophisticated


B. Knower’s perspective


  • Your thinking and reasoning is independent
  • You demonstrate self-awareness
  • You mention different perspectives about specific issues
  • Your examples are varied, well-explained and relevant


C. Analysis of knowledge issues


  • Your writing style and organization demonstrates insight and depth
  • Your main points have been justified
  • You essay contains both arguments and counter-arguments
  • Your essay clarifies assumptions and implications mentioned


D. Organisation of ideas


  • The essay is well-structured
  • The key concepts are explained
  • Your facts mentioned are accurate
  • Your essay contains a Reference Page


Remembering the each criteria throughout the writing process may be difficult; therefore, another method of keeping the basics in your mind while writing is by using the "4 Cs" explained below:


  • CONTENT (criterion A)- incorporation of Knowledge Issues
  • CREATIVITY (criterion B)- incorporation of Personal Thought
  • CRITICAL THINKING (criterion C)- incorporation of arguments and counter-arguments
  • CLARITY (criterion D)- well-structured essay


Choosing a Question from the Prescribed Titles and Brainstorming

When choosing a question for your essay from the IBO Prescribed Titles, make sure the question you choose can fulfill the following:

You understand the question

  • If you don't understand the question, than don't try to figure out what it means. Just don't choose that question! Choose something easier! You should be clear about what the question means, what knowledge issues it raises and what is and is not relevant to it.


You are interested in the question


  • How can you write about something you are not interested in? You will encounter many difficulties and also become very bored. Remember, one goal in writing an essay it to keep it interesting for the reader!


You have something to say about the question


  • Can you come up with knowledge issues, possible examples and explanations for the question? You need to display confidence in your essay, if you cannot identify it's features, you cannot display that confidence. Try not to choose a question that covers a topic you did not study in your TOK class.


Now it is time to Brainstorm your ideas:


  • Read exemplar essays
  • Keep in mind the TOK diagram (if you have trouble remembering it, print it out and have it in front of you at all times)
  • Keep in mind the Assessment Criteria or the "4 Cs"
  • Jot down ideas that come to mind when thinking about the question
  • Compare and contrast the ideas, than get rid of unimportant ideas.
  • Think about how your ideas are related to each other
  • Create a mind map to visualize your ideas, and connect them
  • Start giving your main ideas sub-points
  • Don't start writing by using a textbook with information. The essay is all about your ideas, and your reflection on the question.


Writing and Organizing the Essay

Now that you have brainstormed your ideas and have a good idea about what you want to write. Begin writing.


  • Introduction
  • Body Paragraphs
  • Conclusion




  • Tell the reader what you are going to do in the body paragraphs of your essay
  • There are three steps to a solid introduction:
    • have an attention grabber at the beginning of the introduction to hold the reader's attention
    • explain what you understand by the question
    • outline how you will approach the question and undertake the issues

    [*]In order to explain yourself, you should:


    • write the question you are undertaking in your own words
    • explain key terms/give definitions for key terms (in order to avoid ambiguity throughout your essay)
    • state why the question is important

    [*]impose your own limits on the question (you can never cover everything, so choose the main fields you wish to work work with)



Thesis Statement


  • the fundamental claim you are making in your essay
  • write a rough Thesis Statement before you start writing
  • your Thesis Statement will most likely need to be changed a the end of your writing




  • Purpose of the paragraphs (i.e. the body) of your essay- break down, and set apart major new points in your arguments
  • Organization of the paragraphs of your essay- a group of arguments and evidence that have to do specifically with the point of the main argument being discussed in that specific paragraph
  • How long should each paragraph be and how should they be or set-up?
    • Make sure your paragraphs don't have any irrelevant information
    • Major points will, obviously, be longer paragraphs; meanwhile, minor points will be shorter, possibly only 4-5 sentences
    • Transition smoothly from paragraph to paragraph (i.e. from point to point). Use appropriate transition words and concluding sentences in your paragraphs to achieve this smooth transition
    • Since it is a long essay, you may want to occasionally recap on what you have written, as to not lose the reader in many points, examples and information.






  • Wrap up your essay; do not end abruptly.
  • Do not briefly restate what you have already said in your body paragraphs
  • Formulate a new way to state your major insight/argument
  • Mention unresolved issues
  • Have a striking concluding sentence, giving the reader a positive view on your essays argument.




  • Clarity
  • Economy
  • Precision


Clarity- make sure the reader can understand what you are saying. Do not feel the need to use complicated words, which would brake the flow of your essay.

Economy- make your essay flow, but also eliminate irrelevant adjectives and other words that are unnecessary and take up your limited word count



  • avoid clarifying too many words; people will get overwhelmed by definitions
  • make sure to use language that is correct. Some words have subtle differences, others sometimes are inadequately used


Key Features that Should Appear in Your Essay

Content- Key Question: could your essay have been written by someone who has never taken a TOK class? If yes, than you have a problem: there is not enough TOK content (vocabulary, arguments, areas of knowledge, issues of knowledge, etc.)

  • display TOK-type critical thinking abilities
  • the central question: How do you know
  • tell about the subject, not just facts
  • compare and contrast difference sources, knowledge issues and areas of knowledge


Personal Thought- Key Question: does the accumulation of your examples and personal thoughts to justify your arguments give your essay a distinctive voice? If your essay sounds bland and boring, you have a problem: go back, be creative and thoughtful.

Demonstrate your personal thoughts through:


  • specific positions you take and the points you make for the positions
  • your well-organize, structured essay
  • your comparisons
  • your choice of examples
  • your use of language
  • your awareness of bias


Definitions- Key Question: Does your essay begin with explanations/definitions of possible contested concepts you will be utilizing throughout your essay? If someone was to highlight the definitions in your essay, would they be in the introduction, before the reflection?


  • Define the contested concepts
  • Definitions should be at the beginning of the essay, and a reflection should end the essay
  • Explain why the definition is important and what hangs on it.
  • You may need to refine your definitions after you finish writing your essay.
  • Steps for a good definition:
    • look into typical examples
    • find common characteristics
    • test the concept




Arguments- Key Question: Are your arguments a connected series of statements? Do your arguments gives premises to support your claim (your conclusion paragraph)


  • "Therefore" test- put therefore in front of your statements, and the series makes sense, then it is an argument.


Evidence- Key Question: Do you have examples for your arguments that give your reader a typical, real-lie event to identify with?


  • As a rough guide, you should give supporting evidence if what you are saying is:
    • central to your argument
    • disputable or surprising.

    [*]The more that hangs on an assertion and the more disputable it is, the more evidence you should give in support of it.

    [*]Approach your sources critically:


    • Who says?
    • Do they have the relevant expertise?
    • Are they trustworthy?
    • Do they have a vested interest?
    • What’s the evidence?
    • How plausible is it?
    • Do they show both sides?
    • Do they use emotive language? Do other experts agree?




Counter-arguments- Key Question: Did you give substantial counter-arguments and refute them successfully?


  • Pretend like your essay is a dialogue: someone is trying to contradict your argument, and you are refuting them
  • Once you have given a counter-argument, you will need to decide how it affects your original argument. There are two main types of response you can make:
    • Refutation- reject the counter-argument, proving its mistakes, unlikeliness or unimportance
    • Concession- You allow that there is some truth in the counter-argument and qualify your original argument to take account of it.




Sound Reasoning- Key Question: Go through your essay and identify all of the arguments. Have they been properly justified?


  • To have a well-justified argument, be careful for:
    • Hasty generalization- generalizing from insufficient
    • Black-and-white thinking- fallacy of going from one extreme to the other.
    • Inconsistency- Check the overall consistency of your essay and ensure that your various points do not contradict one another.




Depth- taking your analysis to an upper level; giving the essay weight

Think about 5 main factors:


  • Depth of dialogue try to not go back-and-forth between arguments and counter-arguments, and think of a response to the counter-argument and a counter-response to that. Think about: the quality as well as the quantity of such exchanges, at what point to bring them to a close.
  • Weight of evidence The more supporting evidence you can give for your arguments the more conviction they will be.
  • Relevant distinctions Introducing relevant distinctions will add subtlety and finesse to your argument.
  • Key implications By exploring the implications of your argument, you show that you are thinking around the issue. Ask yourself what follows from the point you are considering.
  • Background assumptions What assumptions am I making? Be willing to question them. Try not to confuse what is cultural and what is natural




  • make connections
  • consider both similarities and differences
  • consider different perspectives
  • think beyond your own assumptions
  • bring in hidden assumptions in your own thinking




  • use varied and effective examples
    • Keep in mind when giving examples:
    • Hypothetical examples
    • Clichéd examples
    • Representative examples
    • Varied examples
    • Brevity of examples
    • Examples vs statistics- use both if you want





According to the IBO definition, plagiarism is ‘the representation of the ideas or work of another person as the candidate’s own’. You will not be awarded your IB Diploma if it is discovered that you plagiarized your essay. To avoid plagiarism, the IBO says that: ‘Candidates must always ensure that they acknowledge fully and in detail the words and/or ideas of another person.’ Be sure to, therefore, reference (give credit) to any quotations written in your essay.

Wow thanks for the effort! Our teacher haven't told us a thing about this!

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  • 10 months later...

What do you guys think about subsectioning the essay with the KQs to explicitly state them?

For example like this:









KQ 1:






KQ 2:









Edited by harperpeck
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