Structure of the essay

Structure of the TOK essay

Introduction (150-200 words)

Makes clear how you understand the topic and key words (avoid dictionary definitions, introduce them in the subtle way, not for example: the key words are…., the first one means…)

Includes a Thesis Statement – the main claim you are making in your essay; it is usually the last thing you are going to write and you might add it after writing the whole essay

Sets the parameters of the essay (what you will cover / wonʼt cover/ in what context?)

Might give a short overview of your own opinion

Might say why the question is interesting or important

Should be refreshing and surprising!

The May 2016 subject report states that as the PT are explicitly stated as Knowledge Questions or the Knowledge Question can be easily deduced from the title there is no need to pose a central KQ in the introduction. Usually the essays that have an implicit KQ do better – your essay should be focused on answering the KQ or addressing a claim stated in the title – there is no need to put it explicitly in the Introduction.

Body Paragraphs (200-400 words each)

Body Paragraphs consist of several building blocks:

Topic Sentence – introduces the sub-theme of the paragraph, says what is the focus of the analysis in this part; ex. Natural Sciences are considered highly reliable due to the rigorous standards set for the scientific method. Topic sentence is usually an answer to a sub-KQ (implicit).

A good topic sentence:

  • puts forward an idea
  • uses words from the title
  • should not be very general or vague
  • should not be too narrow (so that it cannot be discussed)
  • is short and clear

Topic sentences usually show:

  • the reasons for something (X is true due to…)
  • a detailed view of a relationship between two variables (to construct a good topic sentence you need to narrow down the general claim: X influences Y …SO… what is it about X (adjective added to X)? how (what is the influence?)? what aspect of Y?)

Topic sentences also act as transition elements between paragraphs. You might want to use transitional language vocabulary (extending the point or indicating contrast).

Explanation – after you introduce your topic sentence you have to explain it a little more pointing out the assumptions that led to this idea or elaborating on the idea itself.

Evidence – the essay needs to be supported by appropriate evidence that illustrates your claim. In TOK students should use real-life examples taken from their personal experience, other IB subject or research. However, the examples should not be over-described. They should be introduced briefly and then properly analyzed using TOK concepts in relation to the claim you are making.

Analysis – this part is the most important part of the whole body – it shows that you can critically examine and evaluate the claims and examples. It uses analytical language and TOK concepts. In the analysis you need to address the underlying assumptions (maybe they are oversimplified?), methodology limitations, objectivity and reliability, applicability, omissions or exceptions, etc. You may also want to use 6 types of Socratic questions to further your analysis:

1. Questions for clarification: Why do you say that? How does this relate to our discussion?
2. Questions that probe assumption: What could we assume instead? How can you verify or disapprove that assumption?
3. Questions that probe reasons and evidence: What would be an example? What is….analogous to? What do you think causes to happen…? Why:?
4. Questions about Viewpoints and Perspectives: What would be an alternative? What is another way to look at it? Would you explain why it is necessary or beneficial, and who benefits? Why is the best? What are the strengths and weaknesses of…? How are…and …similar? What is a counterargument for…?
5. Questions that probe implications and consequences: What generalizations can you make? What are the consequences of that assumption? What are you implying? How does…affect…? How does…tie in with what we learned before?
6. Questions about the question: What was the point of this question? Why do you think I asked this question? What does…mean? How does…apply to everyday life? (University of Michigan)

Counter-claim – you need to think about your essay as of a dialogue: one proposing arguments, the other opposing and suggesting alternatives. After introducing the counter-claim you need to show how it affected your original argument. You can either refute the counter-claim or make a concession asmitting that there is some truth in it.

Mini-conclusions – linking the paragraph to the knowledge question, summing up the paragraph. After reading a Topic sentence and the conclusions sentence the reader should have a general overview of the whole paragraph.

There are 2 approaches to body paragraphs:

 1. all in one paragraph

Claim (topic sentence with explanation) (3-4 sentences)

Evidence (real-life example)

Analysis in the context of the claim

Counter-claim with explanation (2-3 sentences)

Evidence (if any)

Conclusion (Analysis, Discussion, and implications)

2. two separate paragraphs

Claim (topic sentence) with short explanation (3-4 sentences)

Evidence (real-life example)

Analysis in the context of the claim


Counter-claim with explanation (2-3 sentences)

Evidence (real-life example)

Conclusion (Analysis, Discussion, and implications)

This means that you can have 3 to 5 (or more) body paragraphs. You may want to write about one Area of Knowledge in claim and counterclaim or you might want to directly compare and contast Areas of Knowledge you have chosen. You may also wish to add a separate paragraph that will compare and contrast 2 Areas of Knowledge of your choice or discuss the implications (why is it important? what are the consequences of that?) of your conclusions.

Conclusions (100-200 words)

a new way of formulating your key insights (not repeating what you have already said)

final sentence: a good finishing sentence will leave a lasting positive impression on the examiner


Lagemaat, R. (2007). How to write a TOK essay

Woods, T. (2016). How to structure a Theory of Knowledge Essay