You poured your heart and soul into it. You gave it your sweat, blood and tears (hopefully not blood). It took you a full year just to come up with a question in the first place.
I’m talking, of course, about your extended essay. DP2 students, the time has come when schools are asking for those first drafts!
Then again, maybe you didn’t think about it until a week before the deadline. Maybe those last days of writing still haunt your dreams. Or maybe you’ve forgotten all about that old essay already.
Well… I have some bad news.
You’re going to have to rewrite it.
Not that I have any doubt about how brilliant it already is. But simply because of this simple fact: first drafts are never perfect.
Pretty soon, you’re going to have to look again at that essay, weed out its flaws, and polish it until it shines as the best essay it can possibly be. Possibly (quite probably) the best essay you’ve ever written. It won’t be easy, and so here are our 5 key steps you should think about when you’re rewriting your extended essay.
What’s the Point Anyway?
If you can’t summarise your extended essay in one sentence, you need to fix this quickly.
Not sure what I mean? Take a look at these 2 (made up) examples:
- An analysis of feline imagery in the poetry of T. S. Eliot
- An analysis of the use of cats and cat imagery in the poetry of T. S. Eliot, and a comparison of how he uses cats in poetry as opposed to dogs. Also a brief exploration of the personal life of T. S. Eliot and his relationship to animals.
Be honest with yourself. Think back to what you originally set out to achieve with the essay, and work out whether you’ve achieved it. It’s easy to forget about this when you’re in the midst of the writing, but now that you’ve finished the first draft, take a look at whether you’ve actually answered your original question. If you have, great! If you haven’t, redefine the question. I don’t necessarily mean change the title; I mean reshuffle your own idea of what your essay is. Try to pinpoint what exactly is the key point of your essay. What is its core?
You might find it helpful at this point to go back to the original guidelines. Take a look at our own free guide to the Extended Essay here!
Done it? Okay, so now I’ll pass on a well-worn piece of advice used most often by authors:
Kill Your Darlings
Don’t keep something for the sake of it. Especially not for the sake of meeting the word limit. For every point ask the merciless question:
What does this actually add to my essay?
Is it directly relevant to the question?
If the answer to either of these is ‘no’, cut it. Just get it out.
The worst part is, often the very thing that inspires an idea is the thing holding it back most. So look carefully at the first few paragraphs of the essay, the ones you wrote right at the start. Then be brutal about whether everything in it needs to be there or not.
If you’re nervous about losing an essential part of your masterpiece, remember that you’re not ‘losing’ it forever, just for this version of the draft. And you don’t have to delete it off your laptop. Save a new draft of your essay under a different name – say ‘My Wonderful Extended Essay 2.0’ and cut the thing. Wait a day, then read the essay again. If it works, leave it out.
Because that’s another rule that’s you’d be wise to stick to: If the essay works without a point, that point is not needed.
Keep Up the Pace
Just because it’s long doesn’t mean it should ramble.
Keep the essay moving. The argument should feel like a natural progression and development through each paragraph, not a list of different examples.
Here’s a trick you can try:
Print out your essay, cut out each individual paragraph, and rearrange it by sticking or stapling them to other pieces of paper with a centimetre of space between each. In the gap between each paragraph, write one out of two words, depending on which is most relevant:
If neither of these works, something isn’t working with your argument. If the words that you really want to use to connect them is ‘and also’, there is something wrong. Either the paragraph that comes after this should be cut, or it needs to be changed. This change might be about changing the transition between the two paragraphs, or it might be about putting the paragraph in a different place completely. Think about which.
Streamline the Language
This might seem strange, given that it’s such a long essay. But that’s not an excuse for long sentences that don’t go anywhere. Each sentence should be as clear as it can be. This means than any word that doesn’t need to be there should be cut.
For a detailed look at how to streamline your language check out this article on writing clearly and concisely.
My personal top tip for this is to try reading it out loud. It might take some time since the essay is so long, but this is the best way to test out the language. If you find yourself pausing for breath in the middle of a sentence, or struggling to get out a word, this is a sign that your language can be improved. Read it out loud and put a mark on the page wherever you stumble. Even better, record yourself reading it and listen to the recording.
(Thanks to TexasEagle for the photo of this very streamlined bird – see what I did there?)
What Did the Criteria Say again?
This one is simple, but often forgotten by this point. Why? Because it takes effort. But it will be worth it in the end. Go back to the original criteria and use it as a check list. Circle the key words and think about what will earn you marks. Then, go back to your essay and make sure you are hitting all those key points. If there’s something you should have included but haven’t, now’s the time to put it in!
Want the link to what the IB itself says about the Extended Essay? Okay, here you go.
And there you have it!