Although there is no “right” way to structure a TOK essay, consider the following outline a starting point:

  • Introduction
  • Discussion of key terms in the Prescribed Title (this could be done later in the essay)
  • Knowledge Question / Knowledge Claim
  • Counterclaim
  • Knowledge Question / Knowledge Claim
  • Counterclaim
  • Knowledge Question / Knowledge Claim
  • Counterclaim
  • Knowledge Question / Knowledge Claim
  • Counterclaim
  • Conclusion (with implications)

The introduction

A good introduction in a TOK essay is not that different from a good introduction in any other type of academic essay. The introduction outlines the essay’s scope and shows the reader (the IB marker) how the essay will respond to the Prescribed Title. Since the Prescribed Titles are very open-ended, setting things out clearly in the essay introduction is essential.

After analyzing enough sample essays you will see recurring things come up in introductions again and again:

  • Identify which Prescribed Title the essay is based on (This is of course must be crystal clear).
  • Brief discussion of the key terms in the Prescribed Title
  • Outline the main RLEs in the essay
  • Outline the AOKs in the essay
  • Outline the WOKs in the essay
  • Outline the angle that the essay will take with the Prescribed Title
  • State the essay’s thesis statement / brief overview of main arguments in the essay

You would not want to put everything in the above list in your introduction, though. Decide on the points that are the core of your essay and consider what is most helpful to the marker.

When you are finished with the brainstorming/ research / planning part of the essay process, you need to decide where to begin writing. Some students prefer to write the introduction first because it helps them refine their own ideas and it sets out the rest of essay.

Others, however, find it easier to leave the introduction to later and starting with the body paragraphs. Your ideas may evolve significantly as you work on the body paragraphs. It could be better to work on the introduction only after the body paragraphs and your ideas have solidified.

Discussion / clarification of key terms in the Prescribed Title

Some TOK essay introductions have a brief discussion of key terms in the Prescribed Title. This is often easier to do if there are only a few of them.

In other cases, some students use the first body paragraph to discuss their approach to the key terms. Key terms could also be clarified later on as needed in the body paragraphs.

Body paragraphs

If you look at enough successful sample TOK essays there is some variety in the number of body paragraphs. Some essays have one or two more Knowledge Questions / Claims than others. Some Prescribed Titles have more key terms and those essays may have more body paragraphs. In other cases the number of body paragraphs comes down to how much depth a student spends on an RLE. More depth = fewer body paragraphs.

Your body paragraphs will be focused on Knowledge Questions / Knowledge Claims as well as Counterclaims. It is possible to have longer body paragraphs that contain both a Knowledge Claim and the Counterclaim. This can result in some quite long paragraphs, however, and you should consider putting Claims and Counterclaims in separate paragraphs.

Use of transitions in body paragraphs

The effective use of transitions in the body paragraphs of a TOK essay is much more important than in a regular academic essay because TOK essays shift between ideas quite often:

  • TOK essays discuss different key terms in the Prescribed Title.
  • TOK essays have several Knowledge Claims and Counterclaims. It must be clear to the marker when the essay moves from one to the other.
  • TOK essays compare and contrast different RLEs, AOKs, WOKs and Different Perspectives.

Since there is such a huge variety in TOK essays (even those based on the same Prescribed Title) clarity is extremely important; TOK markers have a lot to cover in a limited amount of time. Use transitions to make your ideas and arguments easier to understand.

The conclusion

A good TOK essay conclusion is not that much different from a good essay conclusion. It should do more than just restate the main points from the essay: the conclusion should weave everything in your essay together into a satisfying closing. The best way to see how to write an effective TOK essay conclusion is to read and analyze as many TOK essay conclusions as you can. Take note of the implications you see in sample essays. Not all of the TOK essays you will find have implications but the term is in the top band of the assessment instrument.