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Preparing your TOK essay: information guide for your completing your essay planning

template
Your Name:_________________________________________________________________

Your title:________________________________________________________________________

Introduction
The introduction should be about 150-200 words and can include (examples are in italics):
(The example below is based on the title “There are no absolute distinctions between what is true
and what is false.” Discuss in relation to two areas of knowledge.”)
Interpretation of the title: I think this title is stating that you can’t really cut a clean line between
what is true and what is false, that there is a sort of grey line between them where things are
relatively true or relatively false, as opposed to a clean border where you cross over into the world
of trueness.
Your definition of the key terms and concepts in the title – not from the dictionary: (although
you may or may not use this in the actual it will help you to think more deeply about what the
question is asking)
• Absolute: Something that is complete and can't be argued, not something that has fuzzy
edges.
• Distinction: Being able to tell one thing from the other.
• False: Something that is not true. This can be something that is believed, at the time to be
true, but later gets disproven. If this occurs then, even though it was believed it was, all that
time, false.
• True: Something that is justifiable and believable at the time or in a situation or AOK. In
this case it could be something that you can show to people or that you can sufficiently
justify.
Identification of the knowledge questions (this might be in the form of statement, as in the first
example, or in the form of a question, as in the second example): (1) The title is inviting me to
consider what truth and falseness are and whether or not they remain absolute across time, in
different areas of knowledge and maybe in different cultures. OR, (2)To what extent are truth and
falseness absolute or can truth and falseness change in different AOKs or different situations?
Isolation of the key WOKs: I think that this applies to all of the WOKs, but the most significant
ones to consider are reason, emotion and sense perception.
Isolation of the AOKs: I intend to use mathematics, science and history to illustrate my response.
Statement of your position or thesis – remember the best answers are not black and white or
yes/no. In other words, a balanced response. The balance sets the stage for an argument and a
counter claim. They usually point out that it is different in AOKs or situations: I mostly think
that true and false can have a range of meanings, but I only agree to an extent because I
acknowledge that this is less so in some areas of knowledge than it is in others.
Indication of the most significant claims and counterclaims: The key counterclaim that I will use
is that in mathematics equations are generally regarded as clearly either true or false but I will show
that in some cases an equation can be both.

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Here is another example using the following title: "There can be no knowledge without
emotion...until we have felt the force of the knowledge, it is not ours." (Adapted from Arnold Bennett)
Discuss this vision of the relationship between knowledge and emotion. (110 words)
We constantly attain information, through communication, in school, subconsciously, and simply by
observing the world around us. However, information is not knowledge. We can sit in a boring lecture
hall and take in facts and information, but what we hear is simply passively stored in our memory. We
may even accept the information as true. But until this information impacts on a deeper, more emotional
level, it holds little significance because we do not actively think about it. We don't wonder what it means,
why it was said, or where it comes from. This knowledge is not our own; without having an emotional
impact, information cannot affect our understanding.

Main Body of the essay


Identification of your arguments you will discuss in your essay in the body of your essay:
(example in italics)

The body of your essay will contain 3 – 5 statements or questions or arguments or claims that will
discuss and explore your main knowledge question. They must be clearly linked to the KQ and are
the foundations of your position/thesis. You don't need lots of detail here – the point you want to make
should be simple and clear. Sometimes, you may need two sentences to help clarify the argument.

This is the deep thinking stage of your essay. A good approach is to brainstorm with others, talk to
parents, friends, maybe do some googling or reading about your main thesis. You want to generate as
many ideas as possible to provide yourself with a range of ideas to draw from. Write down all your
ideas and edit them later.

Examples of main arguments I might use for the title “There are no absolute distinctions
between what is true and what is false.” Discuss in relation to two areas of knowledge:

• Maths is often considered to be the truest form of knowledge because it is based almost
entirely on deductive reasoning.
• Yet, the foundations of maths – the axiomatic system – relies on 'self evident' truths
derived from logic and sense perception, which are not always true in certain situations.
• In the real world we rely on mathematics to be absolutely true.
• Mathematical knowledge, even if unable to be proven absolutely true, is not necessarily
false.
• Beyond the fundamental, certain truths that an historical event took place, historical
knowledge is based on interpretation of historians and these change over time, are
subject to bias, and can come from different perspectives.
• Although the historian uses reason and sense perception, emotion, bias, language and
imagination have a significant role to play in generating historical truth. This makes
truth in history subject to change.
• The discovery of new scientific information or the use of new technology can lead to
history being falsified.
• 'Truth' in history is seen differently depending on your perspective.

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Supporting the arguments (and counterclaims) in the body of your essay – the role of relevant
examples in TOK essays:
• Support should be in the form of examples that make your argument convincing.
• Examples bring your essay to life and leave your distinctive stamp on the essay.
• Usually, examples can be drawn from a combination of referenced material and from your
personal experience in CAS, IB/TOK study, extended essay, or your personal life. A half and
half mix works best.
• This is the research stage of your essay, when you look for interesting and relevant examples.
It is probably the most time consuming task of writing your essay.
• They should be real and not be what you think would be the case, in other words hypothetical,
or what 'might' be what someone thinks or 'if' a situation occurs.
• They should be specific, using enough detail for a reader who is unfamiliar with the example
to understand the relevance.
• If examples are drawn from a specific AOK or a different perspective, identify the AOK or
perspective to make sure the marker does not overlook it.
• Some examples may be long and provide extended support to a number of ideas in your
argument, but others may be tucked away in wee phrases, just to quickly illustrate a point.
• You may refer to the same example more than once in your essay, but don't overdo it.
• The example should finish with a sentence explaining exactly how the example supports your
main point.
Examples of examples: (not based on the earlier essay title)

Example 1 (a counterclaim): Treaty of Versailles, bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki


Some people would say that we can and should look upon past events as lessons or perhaps
predictions of the future. Arguably, we can look to the past to make reasonable judgements as to
whether a situation is likely to occur. (This links back to previous argument) The counter-
argument to this, however, is that something will never happen twice under precisely the same
circumstances. (counter claim) One example of this, as discussed in my IB history class, (real
and personal) could be the Treaty of Versailles, where a key aim was to prevent another world
war and the possibility of Germany as a future aggressor, but which ended up arguably as a
contributing factor to the outbreak of war in 1939.4 Despite this, surely we can still look to the
past as a guide for the future - for example, determined efforts to avoid nuclear war in the future
following the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. (response to counter claim)

Example 2: emotional connection, making the knowledge your own


When we form a personal connection with someone or something, that information gains a
heightened relevance in our lives. We start to think about it, questioning its validity and how it
relates to us, because it has aroused our emotions and interest. The physical distance separating
us from world problems diminishes their significance to us emotionally, because we are unable
to form a personal connection.(claim) George Orwell portrays this concept in his essay 'A
Hanging', which centers on Orwell's experience as a prison guard and his emotional reaction
to a hanging. As the criminal approaches the gallows, he steps aside to avoid a puddle. Orwell
writes of his sudden awareness of the essence of the man's humanity in that moment, because of
such a simple, universal act that put the criminal on an equal cognitive plane as Orwell. In that
slight gesture, he gained knowledge of "unspeakable wrongness, of cutting a life short...we were
a party of men walking together, seeing, hearing, feeling, understanding the same world; and in
two minutes, with a sudden snap, one of us would be gone." (links to claim and KQ)

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Example 3: The thesis is that the most valued knowledge does not need to be strongly justified

Although it seems that religion is supported only be weak justifications, still millions of people
around the world continue to believe, and to act upon those beliefs every
day.(argument/claim) Religion and the belief in a higher power are often very highly valued by
people despite the lack of strong justification. People act upon their religion and go to
extraordinary lengths to do so, sometimes making great sacrifices.(argument explained) For
example there have been Islamic suicide bombers who have sacrificed their own lives for their
faith and religion, a religion which promises paradise as a reward for acts of martyrdom. Other
people have been known to spend long periods of time fasting as a sign of their commitment to
their god. Another example of such commitment is the biblical story of Abraham(1) (which many
religious people hold to be true, and I can provide no evidence to the contrary). God asked
Abraham to sacrifice his first born son Isaac (who was probably more important to him than his
own life) to Him as a display of his faith and commitment. Abraham was prepared to do so in
the name of God. (short, quick fire examples in support) This shows the extraordinary lengths
to which some people are willing to go, in the name of religion and a god or gods.(links example
to argument) This willingness to act upon such religious knowledge is a clear indication of how
highly valued his knowledge is, despite its lack of strong justification. (links argument to KQ)

Counterclaims: Each of the discussions in the body of your essay makes a point and is then
backed up or supported with example. In most cases, you must also show consideration for the
alternatives to your argument – this is a counterclaim (examples of how counterclaims – CC -
might begin are in italics).

• CC might offer alternative evidence that proves the opposite, ('on the other hand, new other
evidence has been uncovered suggesting...') or...
• CC might point out a problem with the evidence you offered in your argument, ('However
some people might find a problem with my argument...') or,...
• CC might highlight some unwanted implications of your argument,('Perhaps there may be
some tragic consequences should my argument be accepted by all...'), or...
• CC might signal some questionable assumptions of your original argument, ('Nevertheless,
my argument is based on a basic assumption...') or ....
• CC might identify some different perspectives (cultural, historical, from view of different
AOKs) ('Interestingly, this argument did not exist in the last century...')
• CC is supported with example just like your supporting arguments
• Don't always need a counterclaim, but you do need a few in your essay
• Counter claims can be a separate paragraph you may also offer short, sharp counterclaims
within the same paragraph as your argument.

Responding to the counterclaim: The last part of your argument is a statement evaluating how
much of a problem your counterclaim presents to you argument – is it a major attack or is it
not much of a worry at all? Your response could argue a range of options such as:

• The counterclaim is simply wrong ('Although this CC is promoted by extremist organizations,


it is simply a biased view condemned by most governments...'), or...
• The CC is strong enough to force you to compromise with your argument to a degree ('The
importance of this new evidence is strong enough to suggest my argument does not always
remain valid in every situation. For example...), or...
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• The strength of your argument makes it more compelling than the CC ('In spite of the CC
having been true for centuries, it has loss much of its appeal in the age of the computer'), or...
• The CC does not have much impact on the argument given the overall nature of the argument
('Undoubtedly, the perspective offered by natural scientist has it value, but given the focus of
my argument is directed at the arts alone, the CC has limited significance here.')

But either way you will need to explain why you respond the way you do or to possibly support your
response with new evidence (see examples in italics above). It is fair to say that if your thesis is a
balanced one, some of your responses will have to compromise with your main arguments.

In summary, the overall structure of each discussion or argument in the main body of your
essay is as follows: (You should have 3 – 5 arguments/discussions, and an entire argument should
be between 350 – 450 words long, although each discussion may be presented in 2-3 paragraphs).

• Claim – usually a single statement or question to open the discussion


• Explain the claim if necessary – it usually is necessary
• Examples that support and provide evidence for the claim
• Linking sentence that clearly states how your claim and example relate to original KQ
• Counterclaim to offer argument against your claim
• Example supporting your counterclaim
• Response to the counterclaim

The Conclusion:
The conclusion is between 100-200 words long. The conclusion of a good TOK essay could include:
(examples in italic)

• A summary up your overall position and makes it clear to the reader how you think you
have proven the thesis you introduced at the beginning of the essay.
• Implications or the consequences of what follows on from the acceptance of your thesis.
The implications of your thesis makes it clear why this is an important essay, either for you
personally or for knowledge in general (For example, you might argue that if knowledge is
likened to certainty, then it follows that we know almost nothing. Or you might argue that if
all values are relative, then it follows that we can no longer speak of universal human
rights.)
• Any assumptions you may have made in forming your thesis by recognizing that the
practices we have grown up with may not be, “normal” elsewhere – pay attention to cultural
bias that may be coloring your analysis.

The example on the next page uses the title: "There can be no knowledge without emotion...until
we have felt the force of the knowledge, it is not ours." (Adapted from Arnold Bennett) Discuss this
vision of the relationship between knowledge and emotion. The introduction is also included:

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Introduction
We constantly attain information, through communication, in school, subconsciously, and simply by
observing the world around us. However, information is not knowledge. We can sit in a boring lecture
hall and take in facts and information, but what we hear is simply passively stored in our memory.
We may even accept the information as true. But until this information impacts us on a deeper, more
emotional level, it holds little significance because we do not actively think about it. We don't wonder
what it means, why it was said, or where it comes from. This knowledge is not our own; without
having an emotional impact, information cannot affect our understanding.
Conclusion
Emotion is the source behind the impact of information on our understanding. Our personal
connection and interest in a subject stimulate our cognition, making it significant and applicable in
our own lives and allowing it to influence our thought processes and future actions. As humans,
emotion is a major essence of our being. By maintaining an awareness of its potential to distort how
we view a concept, valid information can be gained from even extremely biased sources. Eliminating
emotion's ability to influence our perception removes any chance of gaining knowledge about
ourselves. Emotion is a key ingredient in our ability to obtain knowledge and see a deeper truth in
our understanding of reality. (notice the implications stated)

Link words and phrases: make for fluent connections between paragraphs, for adding further
information or new ideas, and introducing counterclaims – in addition, however, another reason,
furthermore, in spite of, nevertheless, on the other hand, in conclusion, most importantly, perhaps.

Common mistakes:
• Misunderstanding the scope of the essay: you cannot consider every point in 1600 words,
instead explore a few relevant points in sufficient depth
• Failure to refer to WOKs and AOKs
• Claims are not fully developed by not using examples or evaluating those claims
• Ignoring counter claims
• Too much description of real life examples
• Overstating with words like: everyone knows, it is certain, there is no doubt, it is obvious
• Sweeping generalizations: Everyone is different so it is impossible to generalize; All
historians are biased and they are all unaware of being so.
• Not referencing sources that need to be referenced
• Unsupported claims and vague generalizations
• Imaginary or hypothetical examples