Word Limit For Tok Essay Outline

How to Structure a Theory of Knowledge Essay

The following structure is a very good, step-by-step method you can use on any ToK essay to get very high marks. 

Here are the main things to keep in mind when you're using this method:

    1. Your #1 priority is answering the prescribed title. If you somehow follow this method, but don't answer the question you won't score well. So make sure you keep linking back to the question as you go. 
    2. Try to use original, interesting evidence. 

(I have a full a lot of helpful advice, tutorials, evidence videos in my online ToK course, which you're welcome to join if you like. Or, if you just need some TOK Notes you can get those here.)

And I've also made a help page (similar to this) for the TOK presentation, here.

Okay here we go...

The structure on this page will give you a strong foundation for your essay and then we're going to make your essay as insightful as possible.

First, choose your PT and KQ

Before you can begin your real/final essay, you’ll want to look at the Prescribed Title (something like: “What is it about mathematics and science that makes them so convincing?” and think about it.

Get some of your initial ideas down on paper.

Second, choose 1 WOK and 2 AOKs

Now, take your prescribed title and choose two AOKs to explore it with (here are my notes: Mathematics, Human sciences, Natural Sciences, the Arts, Ethics, Indigenous Knowledge Systems, Religious Knowledge Systems, or History). Or you can use WOKs: (again here are my notes: Emotion, Faith, Sense perception, Reason,  Imagination, Intuition,  Language, Memory). Then you can explore these aspects in your essay.

I normally recommend exploring just  2 AoK's in the main body of your essay and then include a few insights into WOKs around the edges (more on this in a bit).

The essay contains two body sections (or "developments"). Each body section will look at a certain area of knowledge or way of knowing.

To explore the question we chose above, it's pretty easy to choose our AOKs because they are actually listed in the question. We'll be using  Mathematics and Natural Science. 

The courtroom analogy

The TOK essay is about knowledge (how we come to know things). It helps to think of the essay as though you're showing the most interesting bits of a conversation between two smart people, about how we know things. 

Or you could think about it like presenting two sides of an argument, in front of a judge. Each side needs to present evidence. 

One lawyer is saying YES (i.e. reason is reliable, with examples) and the other is pointing out the weaknesses in what lawyer 1 is saying (i.e. reason is often not reliable, also with examples).

Your lawyer will make the case that you can’t be guilty of robbing the bank (her thesis), by using several arguments (claims); she’ll show that 

  1. You weren’t there
  2. You’re are a moral person and
  3. You don’t have the technical knowledge to pull off a job like that.

However, if your lawyer was a ToK student they would also be explaining reasons why you might be guilty (the counterclaims).

  1. Someone said they saw you there,
  2. You admitted to lying to your mom about candy one time and
  3. You are pretty good at computers.

The lawyers would use evidence to support each of these claims and counterclaims.

Making sure your evidence actually supports your claim is one of the toughest aspects of the essay.

The step-by-step method

The method has 4 sections and 7 paragraphs overall and specific aspects need to go in each.

First, write your introduction, using 150-200 words

Paragraph 1

-Say 2 interesting things about the prescribed title. "Many people find Mathematics and Natural Science very convincing. However, many of these same people would say that they don't have a strong understanding of either of these two fields. Both of these fields rely on rigorous methodologies."

-Define one or two of the key terms in the title. Here I might define Mathematics and Natural Science. (I would also look up the term "convincing". I might not include that definition in my essay, but I would like to know whether there are any conflicting definitions. That might help me say interesting things later on in the essay--for example in the conclusion.) 

-Narrow in on one aspect which is particularly interesting. "This essay with focus on the link between replicability of results, as a source of reliability." 

-State your thesis. What is your short answer to the prescribed title, your thesis. (You might decide, by the end of your essay, that your initial thinking was wrong, but you should know the point your claims are going to be supporting). 

-Give us a roadmap, a sentence that gives us a preview. This shows us what you’re going to do in your body paragraphs (your "developments"). Tell us AOKs you're going to use and which WOK you will be focused on most. This will make it easy for the marker to know what to look for. An example: “Mathematics can be seen as more reliable because it uses reason. Natural science can be less reliable because it relies on observation. ”

Next write your first development. 2 paragraphs totalling 600 words

Paragraph 2

-Claim. A claim a topic sen­tence that outlines your argument about the prescribed title. For example you could claim that, “Mathematics can be relied on because it is a purely logical system.”

-Explain. Elaborate and clarify your claim. “Mathematics is axiomatic and independent of subjective experience.“

-Example. A real life example, to clar­ify and sup­port the claim from your own experience. Examples should be personal, specific, precise and real. Did something happen in your Science class? Did you have a conversation with your or hear a story from your grandfather? These are evidence from your own life rather than examples from Darwin or Lincoln. So you could talk about how, “In mathematics we learned that the inside angles of a triangle, in Euclidian space, sum up to 180 degrees.”

Paragraph 3

-Counter-claim. Argue against your claim above. “However, it is possible to come to different conclusions using different systems of mathematics.”

-Example. An example that supports your counter claim. “There are different It is not possible to demonstrate that the interior angles of a triangle equal 180 degrees in Euclidian space, this cannot be proven within other systems, such as spherical geometry or hyperbolic geometry.”

-Link to prescribed title. Quickly sum up the (complicated) insights of this section. “It is therefore clear that mathematics is reliable to an extent, but often it can only show something to be true within one fixed system or approach.”

Now, write another two body paragraphs, looking at your second AOK. Use the same approach you saw in paragraphs 2 and 3. 600 words

Paragraph 4




Paragraph 5



-Link to prescribed title.

Finally, write your 'conclusion'. Two paragraphs, totalling 200-250 words

Paragraph 6

-Your conclusion. Explain what big, general insights have come out of this--your conclusion. 

Implications and significance. Also tell us why it's important that we know this. When and how does it matter that we understand this lesson?

Paragraph 7

-Perspectives and extensions. If you can, try to pull in a very different perspective, on your conclusion. Perhaps you can recognize a very different way of approaching the question, which could have resulted in quite different insights than those you included in your essay. Or you could also mention one or two unresolved questions that this essay has revealed. You could also think of this as explaining some "limitations" or a weaknesses of your essay, but it's also about showing that the conversation isn't over yet. There is more to the question than you've had the room to explore.  


Obviously there is a lot more depth that we can go into about what makes a really great TOK essay, but this structure will get you started.

Here are some more ToK Essay tips you might want to consider or you can join my online program if you like www.tokmastery.com



Cite this page as:
Woods, Tim. “How to Structure a Theory of Knowledge Essay” IBMastery. IBMastery, 1 Jan 2016. Web. TODAY’S DATE <https://www.ibmastery.com/blog/how-to-structure-a-theory-of-knowledge-essay>

TOK Essay Outline

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Writing a TOK essay involves several aspects that begin even before the pen meets the paper.  The writer needs to understand the topic he/she intends to cover in a theory of knowledge essay, the audience and how to deliver what they intend to say. When dealing with the subject, the author comes up with suitable ideas that present their point of view and relevant evidence to justify their claims. Once a writer has these, they formulate a blueprint that they can use to ensure that the writer effectively organizes all the major points they want to deliver. This blueprint is the outline.

An essay outline is a framework that an author uses to organize an essay. In a theory of knowledge essay, a TOK essay outline becomes very critical. This type of an essay is complex in nature for many writers need to create a framework that enables them to address all the points they wish to discuss. A TOK essay delves on understanding a particular area of knowledge by using knowledge questions. For many of its topics, there does not exist a correct way to answer the knowledge questions.

While writing a TOK essay outline, it is critical to understand the format of writing a theory of knowledge essay.

The introduction of TOK essay

This section introduces your reader to the topic at hand. It gives details on what you intend to say and a little background information. For a theory of knowledge essay, this area has two major parts. It contains the thesis statement, which gives the scope of your essay and a general idea of what you wish to tackle. Secondly, it has the knowledge issue, which is the central question that you will be dealing with. Cite why the area is important and worth delving into.   More importantly, you need to define complex terms that the reader may encounter to make it easier for them to understand your work.

The body of TOK paper

These paragraphs provide arguments and counterarguments to support your point of view. They provide reasoning as to why your claim that you made with the thesis statement is true. Each paragraph is backed by evidence to justify your claims. Simply put, these paragraphs have topic sentences (the main idea in support of the thesis), evidence to justify, a counterclaim against the thesis, evidence for the counterclaim, a rebuttal (why the counterclaim is insufficient) and a conclusion.

The conclusion of TOK essay

This section is the final part where the author restates his thesis statement, a summary of all the main points he wanted to deliver in the TOK paper and a personal reflection on the possible implications of his work.


Paragraph one

Introduction (approx. 200 words)

  • Introduce your TOK essay
  • Provide explanations for key terms
  • Identify various KI you will tackle. (approximately three)
  • Introduce a thesis statement
  • Make brief overview of your major points
  • Set up a transition for the body of the TOK essay

Body (approx. 1200 words)

Paragraph 1 (An exploration of KI #1 using approx. 200 words)

  • Give your topic sentence
  • Provide your main reasoning why your thesis is true
  • Provide real life examples and evidence to back up your claims
  • Write a conclusion that is emphatic on the relevance of the KI
  • Transition to the next paragraph

Paragraph 2 (200 words)

  • Provide a counter-claim to KI Point #1
  • Support your counter claims’ validity against the thesis statement
  • Provide examples to support your claims
  • Rebut the counterclaim and drill holes into the evidence you have provided
  • Give credence to your main thesis
  • Provide a conclusion.

Paragraph 3 (An exploration of KI #2 using approx. 200 words)

  • Topic sentence
  • Second reason why the thesis is true
  • Provide examples and evidence to support your claims
  • Conclude your paragraph

Paragraph 4 (200 words)

  • Provide counter claim against your second KI
  • Provide evidence
  • Rebut the counterclaim with evidence
  • Provide a conclusion.

Paragraph 5 (An exploration of KI #3 using approx. 200 words)

  • Provide a topic sentence
  • Third reason why the thesis is true
  • Provide examples and evidence to support your claims
  • Conclude your paragraph

 Paragraph 6 (200 words)

  • Provide counter claim against your second KI
  • Provide evidence
  • Rebut the counterclaim with evidence
  • Provide a conclusion.

Conclusion (200-250 words)

  • Restate your thesis
  • Review your main points and sum up the main arguments
  • Make a personal reflection and a very persuasive argument
  • Rephrase the importance of the knowledge issues and the thesis statements
  • Discuss the implications of your research
  • Provide an alternative perspective of your subject

While writing the theory of knowledge essay, there are several important tips that a writer needs to know.


Settle on a topic, which you can easily explain and justify if you have the option for choice. Always understand the topic and the direction you wish to take on your TOK essay.  

Base your outline upon the knowledge issues and the thesis

Let these two agenda guide you in identifying the main points and evidence. Identify knowledge issues that you can accurately describe and support.

Define the scope of your TOK essay

The interdisciplinary nature of knowledge questions makes it easy to delve into several areas of knowledge. The author must be careful to stick to the topic without providing excess information that may end up taking away from your argument. This should be evident in the TOK essay outline. Only put down the areas that are necessary for your points of discussion.

Consider your style and language

Your TOK paper should be reminiscent of three things:

  1. clarity (ensure your TOK essay outline allows you to communicate with your reader),
  2. economy (use space wisely. Ensure your points get you to the 1600 word limit) and
  3. precision (do not be vague or make empty assertions).

Create an account of your evidence

Theory of knowledge essays encompass a lot of evidence and data. It is important to note down all your sources and cite them appropriately. Completely eliminate the likelihood of plagiarism in your work. Within the TOK paper outline, list various sources against your major points.


Demonstrate independence and self-awareness while structuring your ideas on the TOK essay. Effectively describe your position, ideas and choice of examples while being aware of any personal biases that you may hold. These factors will affect the choice of main points that you will put down in your outline.

Writing a well-developed outline for the theory of knowledge essay enables a writer to organize and effectively deliver on the essay. The writer will reflect on each of the parts of the TOK paper and put down only those points, which strengthen the position held by the thesis statement. Outlining helps with transitions from one idea to another making it easy for the author to write his essay and subsequently the readers. It is therefore undeniable that an elaborate outline is the central core of a well-written theory of knowledge essay. 

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