How to Write a TOK Essay

How to Write a TOK EssayA TOK essay or a Theory of Knowledge essay is an important essay for the International Baccalaureate students. All IBO students need to submit a TOK essay in order to get the diploma. Together with the Extended Essay and CAS (creativity, action and service), the TOK essay forms the core of the IB Hexagon. The importance of the essay can be gauged by this simple fact that if a student fails to obtain the minimum grade in this essay, he or she might not be awarded the diploma by the IBO. So, it is important that you must know how to write a TOK essay. Not only you must know how to write it but you should also know how to write a good TOK essay so that you may obtain a better overall score in your IB Diploma. The first thing you must know when writing a TOK essay is a different ball game altogether. It’s not a standard essay where you start writing on a particular topic or subject. Neither it is a comparative or explorative essay where you compare or explore two things, themes, characters or subjects. In a TOK essay you need to explore the topic from a different perspective, i.e., from a point of view of a knowledgeable person. This means that you, as an expert, have to demonstrate how the topic is really valid and justifications for supporting it. If you feel it’s contradictory to your knowledge and perception, then you also need to specify and mention why you feel so and what are the evidences and arguments supporting your views.

The following guide will help you in writing a TOK essay.

 How to write a TOK essay:

  • Look at an essay topic as many times as possible. This will help you familiarize yourself with the topic. Remember that a TOK essay isn’t a standard essay and you need clear and rational mind to do it. By reading the topic multiple times, you would be able to have some basic idea on the topic and know what is expected from you. Don’t panic if you don’t get the idea of the topic from the very beginning. It’s normal to experience such kind of feeling, as most of the time, a TOK essay topic will appear a bit absurd to anyone. But as mentioned above, the TOK essay is not the same thing as a standard essay.
  • After you had read the essay topic a few times, try to note what it is trying to convey and what it wants you to convey. For example, you have decided to write on the following topic: “Knowledge is generated through the interaction of critical and creative thinking. Evaluate this statement in two areas of knowledge?” Here you will see that there is a phrase ‘two areas of knowledge’. There are a number of TOK terminologies that are exclusively attached to the TOK essay. You can find them in the official IB TOK guide. Some of them are 'knowers', 'areas of knowledge', 'ways of knowing' and 'knowledge issues'. Let’s break these special phrases and terms one by one.
  • First, we will take ‘knowers’. Here ‘knowers’ stands for “students”. As knowers, you might be having some notions and knowledge about some of the things around you. How far is that correct? Is that free from bias and selection? How do you know that whatever you know is totally correct and can’t be proven wrong? For example, most of us know that there are nine planets in the solar system of which Pluto is the last one. However, in the mid 2000s, Pluto was demoted from the official position of a planet and now it has been grouped in the category of dwarf planets. How does it affect you, the knower? How has your knowledge been changed by this announcement? Do you feel for or against the move? You need to critically examine the facts you know and how to relate them with the TOK topic.
  • After the ‘knowers’ comes the term ‘areas of knowledge’. ‘Areas of knowledge’ means the subjects you are taught in the Diploma program. There are six different subject groups: Natural Sciences, Human Sciences, Mathematics, Ethics, Arts and History. While writing an essay, you need to relate your point of view with reference to the topic of the essay. For example, why do you feel that Mathematics has been a failure or success as far as the generation of knowledge is concerned? Or why do you believe that Arts has little/big role in today’s fast society? 
  • The next term is ‘ways of knowing’. According to the TOK guide, ways of knowing are our senses and faculties by which we know or perceive things as they are. There are four ways of knowing: Emotion, Reason, Sense Perception and Language. All help in assimilation of knowledge and they also help in shaping of knowledge. For example, we might have never seen God but that doesn’t make us non-believers, as most of us believe in God. So, the reason might not always be true in the society.
  • Another important terminology in the TOK essay is the phrase ‘knowledge issues’. Whatever we are seeing or witnessing around us can be grouped under knowledge issue. For example, how do we know that what we know is absolutely true? Another example is that is it always that emotion always leads to wrong and incorrect knowledge in history? Or is it always that by just seeing some general examples, we can understand everything every time in all the things?
  • Now try to apply and relate all these four terminologies in the TOK essay citing some real world examples. For example, in the above topic, it is asked whether knowledge is generated by interaction of critical and creative thinking. It also asks to submit your response from only two areas of knowledge. Now you can say here that sometimes knowledge is generated by just one of them and sometimes by both of them. You need to prove and support your argument by some real life examples. You can take Natural Science and Human Science as two areas of knowledge here. You can present the space shuttle from natural sciences and say that it was mostly due to creative thinking of scientists. Then you also need to provide a counterargument for the above statement. You can say that although the space shuttle was the result of some good creative minds working together at NASA, it ultimately crashed and the entire program had to be scraped. The flaw and defects were detected by critical thinking of the scientists who proposed to scrap the space shuttle program forever, as it was too risky for human life. So sometimes creative thinking might not work.
  • So, you need to present your views and opinion that are open for questioning and further debate. Never try to make a closed-ended statement, as the TOK essay is not about conclusion but rather your point of view on certain matters that’s going around the society and an individual. You need to introduce the topic, explore it, provide some statements in support of the topic and give some real life examples to support the statement. But again, you also need to provide a counter argument to your statement with some examples in support of your argument. After you had made a couple of arguments and arguments with corresponding examples, you need to make a small conclusion before you actually end the essay.
  • The conclusion shouldn’t end abruptly as the TOK essay is explorative and open ended. You should not make a final and definitive statement that this is final and there is no further room for discussion here, as I have proved that so and so is right/wrong or things like that. You should make a balanced statement in the end proving your point of view but leaving it open for interpretation and further debate. For example, in the above topic, you can say that although creative and critical thinking help in the synthesis of knowledge, sometimes it can be seen that knowledge can be generated even without one of the components. And even if knowledge is generated by the two, it doesn’t mean that we have the final gospel truth. Knowledge is ever updating and in a state of change, etc.
  • Once you have finished the essay, check the word count. It should not exceed 1600 words in any way. Of course things like bibliography, footnotes, endnotes, tables, diagrams, labels, illustrations, charts, annexure, etc. are not included in the total word count.
  • You should mention some sources in the bibliography section in either MLA or APA format.
  • Finally, re-read the entire essay several times and make sure it is perfect by correcting all spelling and grammatical mistakes.
  • Check whether you have included four special terminologies like ‘knowers’, ‘ways of knowing’, ‘areas of knowledge’, and ‘knowledge issues’ appropriately in the essay. Also, check for statements, arguments and counter arguments along with supporting examples in the essay body. Your essay should have sufficient number of statements, arguments, counter arguments and they should be well backed up by some solid real life examples. You should try to give a personal touch to the essay. Involve yourself in the essay and use the first person language like “I”, “me”, “mine”, “my”, etc.  

TOK Essay Example

When writing your theory of knowledge essay, there are two things you want to keep in mind: the question being asked must be answered and real-life, interesting examples must be given. Without these, your essay will be incomplete and you will leave your readers wanting. The TOK essay example about abortion below will give you an idea how to write your own theory of knowledge essay. Review it and have fun crafting your own literary masterpiece.

TOK ESSAY EXAMPLE
Abortion should be legal. Discuss the areas of knowledge that can evaluate this. 

“If a mother can kill her own child - what is left for me to kill you and you to kill me - there is nothing between.” (Teresa, 2017)  are the words of world-famous Mother Teresa. The debate for and against abortion is a long-standing, and possibly never-ending, one. The view of whether or not to terminate a pregnancy has various pros and cons for both women and men. Some think a man has no right to have an opinion on it as the woman is directly affected and has to go through either the pregnancy or the abortion. Others believe the father does have a say as he was involved in the creation process and will be involved throughout pregnancy and the child’s life. Regardless of your gender, persons against abortion hold the viewpoint that a fetus is a living being with rights and terminating it is murder. On the other hand, pro-abortionists believe the fetus is not a living being until it is born; that, especially in the early stages, the fetus is not fully developed and is not yet a sentient being. The issue of when the fetus becomes a living being will not be debated here. Instead, the reasons for having an abortion will be explained and analysed.

Common reasons for having an abortion are financial instability, teen pregnancy, relationship instability, and negative impact on the mother’s life; she’s not yet ready for a child, or she already has children and doesn’t want any more. Mother Teresa also said “It is a poverty to decide that a child must die so that you may live as you wish.” (Teresa, Good Reads, 2017) But in all these cases, could it not be argued that the mother is actually saving the child from a not-so-ideal life? All these reasons come with consequences that have the potential to make a child’s life very unhappy, resulting in mental and/or emotional issues for the child. Shouldn’t this also be considered? And what about the other, less common reasons for having an abortion? These may not be common but their impact is life-changing and as such deserving of consideration.

One reason for having an abortion is a medical condition that threatens the life of the mother. In this case, is it murder to kill it before it kills her? What about a medical condition that impacts the quality of life for the child? Should the parents risk having a child that will have a diminished quality of life? One that the child may not know what it is like to be normal or can do the things their friends are doing or enjoy simple pleasures? Women who choose abortion are often considered selfish, but is it selfish to choose your life over someone else’s? If you were walking on a lonely street and attacked, faced with a knife or gun, would you not choose to live, choose your life over your attacker’s and defend yourself?

Another reason for having an abortion is pregnancy due to cases of rape or incest. Is it right for the mother to live with such a glaring memory of a traumatic experience? What if the mother is unable to adequately recover from her experience and suffers a mental illness such as post-traumatic stress disorder? What if she is unable to deal with any anger issues regarding the incident and takes it out on the child? This would probably lead to either physical or emotional abuse of the child, leading to further psychological issues for the mother, child or family. These potential outcomes may be uncertain at the time of pregnancy, but is it a chance worth taking?

While these reasons may not be common, they are worthy of consideration as their impact affects the entire family, particularly the possible quality of life for the child, and by extension, society. Elizabeth Joan Smith said, “No woman has an abortion for fun.” (Smith, 2017) and I agree as whatever her reason may be, it is guaranteed to not be fun as none of the reasons given above are fun. Whether the reason for the abortion is financial instability, teen pregnancy, relationship instability, negative impact on the mother’s life, a life-threatening medical condition, incest or rape, there will be hardship and suffering for all parties involved. In the debate for or against abortion, I agree with Ruth Bader Ginsburg when she says, “The emphasis must be not on the right to abortion but on the right to privacy and reproductive control.” (Ginsburg, 2017)

Works Cited

Ginsburg, R. B. (2017). Retrieved from ACLU: https://www.acluga.org/en/issues/Reproductive-Freedom

Smith, E. J. (2017). Retrieved from Quote DB: https://www.quotedb.com/quotes/2036

Teresa, M. (2017). Retrieved from Good Reads: http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/21420-it-is-a-poverty-to-decide-that-a-child-must

Teresa, M. (2017). Mother Teresa Quotes. Retrieved from Brainy Quotes: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/m/mothertere158101.html

TOK Essay Topics 

Each individual is different; and as such we all think differently, therefore there will be several ways to interpret a question. In writing your theory of knowledge essay, you must identify and explore the knowledge question and support your discussion with your own real-life experiences. Below we have created a list of TOK essay topics you may consider for your next paper.

45 TOK essay ideas

  1. Poverty is a social construct. Discuss possible areas of knowledge that can evaluate this statement.
  2. Research indicates there is a correlation between video games and violence. Consider to what extent this statement is true based on psychology and sociology.
  3. Evaluate the ethics behind the death penalty based on two areas of knowledge. 
  4. Evaluate the ethical issues on euthanasia within medicine and one other area of knowledge.
  5. Is it appropriate to judge events in history as a knowledge area by the standards of their time?
  6. Are there some ways of knowing better than others? Evaluate the knowledge issues raised.
  7. Humans are habit-seeking animals. Discuss the knowledge issues raised based on psychology and sociology.
  8. Scientists claim there is statistical evidence for racial differences in intelligence. Discuss the knowledge issues raised by such claims.
  9. There is a logical explanation for love and affection in reference to this statement: do human sciences discredit the theory of free will in human behavior?
  10. Plagiarism is common in the digital age. Basing your argument on two areas of knowledge, evaluate the influence that personal and shared knowledge has over the creative process of an individual. 
  11. Does intuition have an effect on behaviour or decision-making?
  12. Can we trust our ‘sixth sense’? Discuss the areas of knowledge that can evaluate this.
  13. Abortion should be legal. Discuss the areas of knowledge that can evaluate this.
  14. Can you learn from other people’s experiences or do you have to experience an event to learn from it?
  15. What is the role of morals in decision-making?
  16. Does knowledge lead to understanding? Give reasons why or why not.
  17. In your TOK paper discuss the effectiveness of hypnotism as a method of treatment for an addiction.
  18. What role does nutrition play when treating cancer?
  19. Neutral questions do not exist. Evaluate this statement with reference to two areas of knowledge.
  20. Humans can only achieve knowledge through passive observation or active experiment. In your theory of knowledge essay discuss this and then state whether you agree or disagree.
  21. Facts and theories can be linked across disciplines and create a common groundwork of explanation. In your IB essay state whether you agree or disagree and give reasons why.
  22. Can shared knowledge shape personal knowledge? Evaluate this statement.
  23. Is there more to knowledge than just providing meaning and purpose to our lives?
  24. What is the correlation between knowledge and understanding?
  25. We only value knowledge produced with difficulty. Evaluate this statement and state reasons why you agree or disagree.
  26. Is death penalty a moral act? In your IB TOK essay state whether you agree or disagree, giving reasons.
  27. Children who play violent video games are more likely to commit violent crimes. Do you agree or disagree? Provide reasons.
  28. Euthanasia is a moral and humane act. Evaluate this statement by giving your reason(s) why you agree or disagree.
  29. Evolution vs. the Big Bang Theory. Which is true and why?
  30. Evaluate the ethics of pre-marital sex.
  31. Explain your thoughts on reparation for slavery.
  32. Is there a correlation between money and happiness? Give reasons why or why not.
  33. Is embryonic stem cell research ethical? In your theory of knowledge essay evaluate this statement and give your reasons why you agree or disagree.
  34. Obesity is a self-inflicted disease. Explain your thoughts on this.
  35. What is the impact of artificial intelligence on humans?
  36. Is it ever justified to mislead the public? Evaluate this and give reasons why you agree or disagree.
  37. Whose responsibility is it to help the less fortunate? Evaluate this and give reasons for your answer.
  38. Animal testing is necessary for all types of research. Give your thoughts on this.
  39. Suicide is a selfish and immoral act. Give reasons why you agree or disagree.
  40. Humans are naturally violent; it is a base instinct innate in us. Evaluate this statement and provide reasons why you agree or disagree.
  41. What is the impact of violence in the media on children?
  42. What are your thoughts on the impact of TV shows and movies about organized crime? Are they giving criminals ideas or were these already in existence?
  43. Most arranged marriages are eventually successful and long. In your IB TOK essay describe your thoughts on this by giving the reasons why you agree or disagree.
  44. Discuss the ethical implications of cloning, giving your thoughts on whether you agree or disagree with this practice.
  45. Sex offenders cannot be rehabilitated. Evaluate this statement by providing the reasons why you agree or disagree.

If you follow the above instructions, you will be able to write a decent TOK essay for your IBO diploma preparation.

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