How to write a TOK essay


A Theory of Knowledge essay (a TOK essay) is a piece of paper that consists of 1,200–1,600 words on prescribed topics compiled by the IB. As the title implies, your TOK paper should concentrate on knowledge problems like what knowledge is, how we know stuff, etc. as well as connect other areas of knowledge.

Coming up with a title for essay

If you want to know how to write a TOK essay effectively, you need to understand its structure. When working on the assignment, you will be required to contrast and compare various ways of knowing through language, perception, emotion, and reason. TOK essay covers eight areas of knowledge. They include:

  • The arts
  • Indigenous knowledge systems
  • Natural sciences
  • Mathematics
  • Religious knowledge systems
  • History
  • Human sciences
  • Ethics

If you don’t want to come up with your own title, you could ask your professor for the prescribed ones. They are compiled by the IB and will require you to contrast and compare the ways of knowing with a couple of areas of knowledge. Every exam, the questions alter, so you can’t completely get ready for the paper until you have the right questions. Stay objective in the course of writing and offer both positions of the title in a concrete and clear way.

Carefully pick a title


Search for a subject that includes an area of knowledge you’re interested in or familiar with. Don’t just grab a subject right away because it looks simple or appealing. Study every title carefully and ask yourself these questions:

  • Is the title interesting to you? The title has to be close to your interests and is something that you want to write about. It should be something you care about and want to study.
  • Are the concepts and keywords in the title clear to you? If some concepts are not understandable to you, you may not grasp what the title asks you to do. If there are some unfamiliar words in the title, highlight them and find their meaning.
  • Do you have anything relevant you can say about the title? You must connect the question to the thoughts that you have studied in your TOK lesson and the topics you’ve covered in class, as well as your personal experiences and own thoughts. The paper should be of an objective tone. However, you’ll need to add passion, clarity, and personality.

Many titles of TOK essays can seem convoluted or confusing. If you find it difficult to understand the terms and keywords in the title, you can try and rephrase it by breaking it down into several proposals, so it becomes clearer.

Structuring the assay

Keep in mind the evaluation elements. The IB applies four elements to evaluate your paper. Try and find what they are and keep them in mind when you prepare your paper. The four areas you will be evaluated on are as follows:

  • Structure of ideas. Your paper must be well-structured. Explain the main concepts, be accurate, and offer references where it is applicable.
  • Understanding the issues of knowledge. Your paper must focus on the issues of knowledge, connect, and compare a minimum of two of the issues. You need to show relevance and show a complete understanding of at least two knowledge issues.
  • Perspective. Your paper must show self-awareness, independent thinking, and offer a couple of various perspectives along with supporting samples.
  • Analyzing the issues of the knowledge. In your paper, you must demonstrate depth and insight, explain your key items, offer arguments and counter arguments, as well as study any suggestions and meaning of your topic.

You need to know to all the keywords in the instructions of the essay. You can be asked to evaluate or assess a claim, which means you need to offer arguments – for and against. Also, there may be a direct question, which you should address in the essay. Also, you may need to define in what way or to what extent a statement is justified.

Brainstorming the ideas

Before you get to the plan, gather all the ideas that you have. TOK essays are mostly reflective pieces, so you’ll need to show that you have examined the title and you are ready to discuss it, and analyze it.

  • Start by a general brainstorm. Record everything that you can think of about the title.
  • After brainstorming look over what you have written. Define the ideas that are related or that refute each other. If you are evaluating a claim in the title, create two columns for and against.
  • Find examples of the thoughts that you recorded. Brainstorm for examples for every idea you have come up with.

Identifying the issue of knowledge

The issue of knowledge is a question or a problem that connects to your understanding of yourself, the world, and others. In the paper you’re attempting to answer the question “how do you know?” An issue of knowledge in the title of the paper will be connected to a couple of the 8 areas of study mentioned above and you should study the potential issues or conflicts in the areas or between them. Define the areas of knowledge you will be talking about in your paper.

Creating an outline

Use the ideas you brainstormed for and choose an area of study to craft an outline for your paper. The outline will be your map and assist you to organize your paper in a clear and concise way. The outline will depend on the kind of paper title you selected. If you write about 1–3 areas of study, you may want to structure your paper applying to a five-paragraph format.

  • Entry. Here, you need to provide an interpretation and explanation of the title and define the main terms. Also, you need to indicate your thesis and state an issue of knowledge connected to the title.
  • The first knowledge area. Offer supporting examples and offer counter arguments against the examples or the title.
  • The second knowledge area.
  • The third knowledge area.
  • Deduction. Sum up your main thoughts and revise your thesis. Finish the paper by giving an answer to the title completely considering the counter arguments and restrictions to the knowledge areas.

Another way of structuring your essay is summing up the main argument and counter argument. In this case your paper may include four paragraphs:

  • Entry and explanation of the issue of knowledge you chose.
  • Main argument along with supportive evidence and examples.
  • Main counter argument with the supportive evidence and examples.
  • Deduction.

Look through the title of the paper again, your brainstorming ideas, and your outline. Try to come up with a good thesis statement. This is a fundamental claim that you’re making in your paper, so it should connect everything in your paper together.

Stay away from dictionary definitions

With your paper you want to demonstrate that you’re writing a reflective paper and not a textbook filled with the difficult definitions. Don’t use dictionary definitions to back up your argument or a counter argument. This will show only that you were not engaged with the subject and skipped through complexity surrounded in favor of just giving generic definitions.

Citing external sources

If you want to know how to write a TOK essay to get a high score, you will all likely need to know how to use the MLA citation style. You will need to cite outside sources using this style. MLA is a usual citation style applied in paper writing. Follow the guide when citing the sources.

  • Offer references to exact quotes using quotation marks.
  • Give references to any sections or sentences where you’re closely following someone’s argument or thought even if it is in your words.
  • Give references to little known or surprised claims and facts.
  • Be logical with your citations and how you reference sources.

Reading your paper out loud

Reading your project out loud will assist you to define how accurate and precise your language is, as well as confirm whether your suggestions are well supported and well structured.

When reading your paper out loud, make sure there are no abstract or vague terms or sentences. Verify that all the words you used are clear and understandable.

Check whether you have identified the issues of knowledge in your paper. Verify whether you have used arguments and counter arguments to back up your thesis statement and whether you provided supportive examples.

Correcting grammatical and spelling errors

When reading your essay for the final time, take the time to check any grammatical errors and the words you misspelled. Read the assay backwards. This way, you could identify every word and make sure there are no clear mistakes in the text.

Reading sample essays

It is important to make your TOK essay excellent. You can ask your teacher to show you sample essays to get the idea of what you need to write about. The IB also publishes 50 excellent TOK essays, which you can check out. It is advisable to look through these sources and try to create a good essay of your own. When looking through the sample essays focus on different themes, the use of examples, the argument structure, the entry, and conclusion.

Making the essay knowledge specific

The objective of your paper is to answer the question in the title. One of the pitfalls of writing is to compose a very descriptive answer with many examples. All the titles concentrate on concepts to do with knowledge and knowing. Thus, the focus of your paper has to be on a critical analysis of the issue. Make sure you develop connections between ways of knowing and the areas of knowledge where appropriate.

Analysis over description

One of the criteria that will be taken into account when assessing your essay is the quality of your analysis. If you’re not sure how good your analysis is, you may sharpen its quality using one of the following methods:

  • Identify and assess arguments and counter arguments in the work
  • Identify suggestions behind knowledge arguments and claims
  • Give serious consideration to the implications of arguments

You can also use the knowledge framework if it is applicable. This is an analysis tool for contrasting two or more areas of knowledge, so you could make connections related to the following:

  • Main concepts
  • Scope and applications
  • Main historical development
  • Methodology
  • Connections with personal knowledge

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