This post addresses several Questions in relation to the TOK Essay.
Disclaimer: The following advice is my personal advice to my students and not approved by the IB (or by anybody else). TOK examiners may have a different opinion on these issues. Use the information at your own risk.
1. Can I use the word “I” in the essay? Can I write the essay in first person?
The TOK essay is a personal essay. Yes, you can use the word “I”, but you do not have to. As a matter of fact, this may even be useful if you give personal examples. Still, do not forget that the TOK essay is a formal essay. Do make sure that the essay uses a formal language nevertheless.
2. Do I have to do research? Do I need a bibliography?
No, research is not required according to the criteria, but it may be helpful. The TOK Essay is not a research essay, it is an argumentative essay. You will not get points for only summarizing other people’s ideas. You get points for analysis and for understanding of these ideas. If you do use quotes or other people’s ideas, then you must give a proper bibliography, of course (as a matter of fact, points will be taken off otherwise).
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Examples to Avoid in ToK Essays
In Theory of Knowledge we always encourage you to use original evidence. It's always more interesting when a student uses an example (a quote, a story, a fact) that we haven't heard of before.
Original "evidence" in your essays doesn't necessarily make them better essays, but it does suggest that you've taken some time with your research and not just using the first thing you found in a last-minute Google search.
The best examples can be the worst --because they're just so darn good.
So again we do tell our students to use "original evidence", but for the student it can be hard to know what is original. As teachers we might see some of the same examples used every year. But it would be hard for a student who is new to the subject to know to know which examples to avoid.
Good examples of bad examples
The May 2016 ToK Subject report has come to the rescue, with a list of some common examples you might want to avoid. It's not mandatory to avoid these examples, but it could improve your mark.
And just to be clear, these examples are in this list for a reason. They really are great examples, so you might decide you do want to include one of them in your essay. If you do, just be sure to explain it very clearly and use it in a way that it helps you answer the prescribed title.
Here's the official list:
1. Serendipitous discovery of penicillin by Alexander Fleming
2. Mark Rothko and environmental influences on his work
3. String theory and the role of evidence in the sciences
4. Margaret Mead's perspective during fieldwork in Samoa
5. The human aspects of the story of the discovery of DNA and of its structure from Friedrich Miescher to James Watson, Francis Crick and Rosalind Franklin
6. Bloodletting as an example of an obsolete practice in medical science
7. The value of the Enigma code and the work of Alan Turing
8. Alchemy as the necessary precursor to modern chemistry
9. Pablo Picasso and Guernica
10. Vincent van Gogh and Starry Night
11. Leonardo da Vinci, the Mona Lisa and Vitruvian Man
12. Isaac Newton and the compatibility of his scientific achievements and his religious orientation
13. Persistence of "anti-vaxxers" despite the exposure of Andrew Wakefield's claims in relation to MMR vaccine as fraudulent
14. The applications of imaginary numbers
15. Ludwig van Beethoven's deafness and reliance on "feeling"
16. Rounding of numbers (eg pi) as examples of simplification and inaccuracy in mathematics
17. Polynomials, factorisation and complexity
18. Music therapy as an application of knowledge in the arts
19. Different notations and ways of doing differentiation from Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz
20. Thomas Edison and the invention of the light bulb
21. The Hiroshima bomb versus nuclear fission reactors with respect to the value of knowledge
22. Work in number theory by Pythagoras, Pierre de Fermat and Andrew Wiles
23. Membrane structure from Davson/Danielli to Singer/Nicholson and the fluid mosaic model
24. Galileo Galilei’s house arrest and Pope John Paul II's admission of error in 1992
25. Friedrich Wöhler’s blow to vitalism with the non-biological synthesis of urea
26. Atomic theories from John Dalton to JJ Thompson to Ernest Rutherford to Niels Bohr to Erwin Schrödinger
27. Elizabeth Loftus and John Palmer on language and eye witnesses
28. Francesco Redi, Louis Pasteur and the disproof of spontaneous generation
29. Alfred Wegener and continental drift
30. Lera Boroditsky’s article on Australian aboriginal orientation
31. Caloric vs kinetic theory with respect to "natural selection" in scientific knowledge
32. Leonhard Euler's equation allegedly having value without application
33. Development of heliocentrism from Aristarchus to Copernicus
34. Thalidomide prescribed for morning sickness and leprosy
35. The outcomes of the work of Fritz Haber for fertilizer and explosives
36. The Riemann hypothesis, large primes and Internet security
37. The Treaty of Versailles and the subsequent rise of Nazism in Germany
38. George Orwell's perspective as presented in Animal Farm
39. Thomas Young’s double-slit experiment and wave-particle duality in physics
40. The ethics of Edward Jenner's work on smallpox and vaccination
41. August Kekulé's dream and the structure of benzene
42. Antonio Damasio and somatic marker theory
43. Fritz Fischer and the alleged causes of WWI
44. Occam's razor with respect to Albert Einstein’s special relativity and Hendrik Lorentz’s ether
45. Gregor Mendel and overly neat experimental results for segregation and independent assortment (also Robert Millikan and determination of the electric charge on the electron)
46. Jackson Pollock’s art and the use of WOKs
47. The Amish and rejection of modern technology
48. The Phillips curve and transient accuracy in economics
49. Lock-and-key and induced fit models of enzyme action
50. Spherical and hyperbolic geometries as perspectives in mathematics
51. Confirmation bias and persistent error in the accepted human chromosome number
52. CERN and the Higgs boson as applied knowledge
53. Standard rival interpretations of the Cold War: traditional, revisionist, post-revisionist
54. Albert Einstein and the cosmological constant
55. Edwin Hubble and expansion of the universe
56. Ignaz Semmelweis and childbed fever
57. Conventional current and electron flow
58. The Nanjing massacre and perspectives
59. Alfred Adler and schemas in psychology as the basis for perspectives
60. Biston betularia and industrial melanism as an example of natural selection
61. Detection of gravitational waves in accordance with predictions from Einstein’s theory of general relativity
62. Feynman diagrams and quantum electrodynamics with respect to simplicity and understanding
63. Physiology from Galen to the discovery of blood circulation by William Harvey
64. The complexity of the chemistry of photosynthesis as presented at various stages of education
65. The patient’s “perspective” in connection with the use of placebos in medical testing
66. Heinrich Hertz and the subsequent application of radio waves