How To Write A Good Tok Paper

Writing you TOK paper: a quick “how to” guide.

Your paper MUST be between 1200 and 1600 words.
If you use external sources, you MUST cite them correctly. If you have doubts about formatting your citations, you can email me, ask me in class, or stop by my office.

Remember this is a TOK paper: Don’t just think, think critically about knowledge.

This means that the focus is going to be on issues of knowledge. What do we claim to know, what methods do we use to make these claims to knowledge, how valid are these claims to knowledge, what variety of viewpoints can we use to approach these issues?

Read the question! Seriously, read the question.

Do not change the question, or answer a question different from what is asked- this may seem obvious, but it isn’t as easy as it may seem.

Understand the terms of the question

Each question comes with certain instructions, built into the topic, as to how you should approach it, follow them. Many of the questions explicitly ask you to refer to various areas of knowledge when answering the question- if so, please make sure you do.

If it asks your to “evaluate” a claim, or if it asks you “to what extent” something is the case, you need to look at arguments for and against a given position. There are ambiguities, different possible ways of interpreting the question, that you need to take into account.

If you are responding to a claim, a statement, or a quote, you again have to evaluate the way in which the terms are used. You might think that the way the word is being used is too reductive, or somehow misses the main point. In such cases be sure to identify how you think the terms is used in the statement, what you think is meant, and why it is somehow ‘off’

Issues of justification often depend on how we understand by the key words (concepts) used. If there are different ways of understanding one concept or of interpreting a key word, then the way something is justified may change. Take some time to find the key terms and analyze them.

Arguments and examples (not the same)

Your ideas need to be justified through logic, and illustrated by example. Since there are different ways of interpreting the issues at hand, there are different ways or arguing for and against them. Once you find some of your main ideas, be sure that your develop them using reasonable claims. Be sure to consider counter-claims (other people’s ideas).When you demonstrate that you understand how someone else could disagree with your position, you show a better understanding of the difficulties raised by the question.

-What do you think, why?
-On what grounds would anyone disagree, and what might their arguments be?
-How would you respond?

Use examples to illustrate you arguments. Examples allow you to lower the level of abstraction- through examples you can show your reader that you understand how these questions relate to your life, your society, and if possible, the world at large. In other words, use counter examples (other areas of knowledge), personal examples, and cross-cultural examples.

Keep in mind though that even examples can be good or bad. Try to make good ones.

Grading Criteria: Getting an A

The IB, and your kindly TOK teacher, provide set criteria according to which you will be graded. Look at them. Then look at them again. You’ll notice that “Quality of Analysis’ and “knowledge Issues” are worth twice as many points as the other categories. It really is imperative (necessary) that you make sure to be dealing with an analysis of knowledge issues.

As a quick reminder, “The phrase ‘problems of knowledge’ refers to possible uncertainties, biases in approach to knowledge or limitations of knowledge, and the methods of verification and justification appropriate to the different areas of knowledge.” As you’ll have surely noticed, these are then centered around our criteria and methods of justification, and the problems that we have with these.


Before you manage to narrow down a thesis, which is the core of your paper, you need to figure out what you think: the best way to do this is asking yourself questions, and asking other people questions. Is this (your topic) something that is or can be known objectively? Subjectively? In what ways do you distinguish these approaches? How might the answer vary depending on the area of knowledge? What about culture- would people from different cultures perhaps have different ways of looking at this?

The structure of the essay:

you already know this, but a quick reminder never hurts. Overall, be clear, be thorough, and be gentle with your reader. This should be understandable to intelligent people willing to listen, but without any knowledge of our class.

The introduction:

Make sure you indicate what your paper will be about. Tell me (briefly) what you’re going to tell me (in detail) later!
It’s not a bad idea to restate the question in your own words- however, don’t just recopy it as part of your essay. Demonstrate that you see what the knowledge issues are, what ways of knowing they involve, and what areas of knowledge they concern. How will your paper analyze these? What examples, counter-examples will the reader be considering. How do the knowledge issues involved impact our quest for truth (or at least for knowledge)? Make sure you have a thesis somewhere in there…


Tell me what you said you would tell me. What are the knowledge problems involved? Whar are the arguments you are making and the counter claims you are considering? Give me good examples and show how they relate to the issues at hand.


Briefly remind the reader about what your told him. What did you argue, why, and how did you show it. Also give me a brief evaluation of the overall topic- what is your general impression bout the question? About our capacity for resolving whatever knowledge issues were of concern? Again, the conclusion should be brief- as unlikely as it may seem to you, 1600 words is not all that many.


Imaginary Examples: Stories you use, usually based on stereotyping, to make a point that needs careful thought instead. Telling me that "An Israeli would regard the Defensive Wall as necessary while a Palestinian would see it as an infringement of his basic human liberties". You're not Israeli or Palestinian, so don't bother imagining what they feel like. Go find out instead (find a real one).

Imaginary Examples2 don't tell me how historians or scientist view the world. Skip assertions like "All scientists are atheists and religious believers highly emotional and prone to superstition". The reaction of most examiners reading these lines is to write in red pen: "Would they?" and knock off some points from your essay.

Meaningless Statements: such as "Since the dawn of time man has been obsessed with knowledge". You weren't there at the dawn of time, neither was I, so skip it. Instead, start your essay off with a good 'hook' something that sounds relevant, interesting, and focused.

Unfounded Generalizations: such as "Americans see wealth itself as a moral good". Be very careful with the use of the word all, or always. If I started making generalisations about allchinese, I'd quickly sound pompous and overreaching. So would you. Don't.

Don't copy the dictionnary: define key terms in your own words. We're actually interested in what you think, and how you understand concepts. I can buy a dictionnary- in fact, I already have. What I'd like to hear about are your thoughts.

If you use a textbook or quote a philosopher make sure you show that you are not accepting the statement at face value- look critically at what is said. Do you agree with what you're quoting? Why, or why not?

MAKE SURE TO INCLUDE COUNTER ARGUMENTS— show me that you can open yourself to other ideas.

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