Academic IAs

How to pick an IA question for ESS?

Environmental Systems and Societies is an interdisciplinary subject. With topics that cover elements from both Group 3 – Individuals and Societies and Group 4 – Natural Sciences. Keeping in mind both the ‘environmental’ and ‘societies’ aspects is key to constructing a successful question. The IA is about 2250 words long and makes up for 25% of your final grade! This article will help you understand how to pick a good ESS IA question. 

Group 3 or Group 4?

Due to the interdisciplinary nature of ESS, you have the unique opportunity to decide whether you want to do an experiment-based IA (leaning more into Group 3) or a questionnaire-based IA (Group 4). Although one aspect can outweigh the other, both should be mentioned. Regardless, data collection is a crucial aspect of the ESS IA one cannot eliminate.

IA Criteria

The ESS IA is graded out of 30. The criteria  include the following:

  • Identifying the Context (6)
  • Planning (6)
  • Results, Analysis, and Conclusion (6)
  • Discussion and Evaluation (6)
  • Applications (3)
  • Communication (3)

Each criterion is designed to assess different aspects of research. In order to select a successful question, its context must be applicable in the real world, and keeping this in mind helps decide on a topic where data collection is doable. Environmental issues are of great importance as one of the main aims of the ESS IA is to design solutions to environmental problems. Data collection adds depth to the IA which aids meaningful analysis and evaluation.

My teacher often emphasizes the “think globally, act locally” approach. This allows us to think about global environmental issues and what we can do about them on a local, or even individual scale.

Selecting a Research Question

Choosing an IA question has a lot to do with selecting a topic. ESS consists of 8 topics :

  1. Foundations of environmental systems and societies
  2. Ecosystems and ecology
  3. Biodiversity and conversation
  4. Water and aquatic food production systems and societies
  5. Soil systems and terrestrial food production systems and societies
  6. Atmospheric systems and societies
  7. Climate change and energy production
  8. Human systems and resource use

The first criterion, identifying the context, states that the research question must be relevant, coherent, and focused. A successful research question is focused. This means it carefully considers just one topic and environmental issue.

Here are two examples of successful IA questions:

  1. How does the pH level (acidity) of water  (3, 4, 5, 6, 7) affect the germination and post-germination growth (in terms of root length and number of leaves) of black-eyed peas after 5 days?

As an experiment-based IA, you can see that right at the beginning. Two variables have been established; acidity and growth in terms of length and number of leaves. The global issue being discussed was wet acid deposition!

For questionnaire-based IAs here is an example from InThinking

  1. How do personal attitudes of girls in Grade 12 establish barriers towards the implementation of meat-free days at school, and therefore to the reduction of meat consumption? 

Over here you can see the “think globally, act locally” approach as the student has taken up an environmental issue of global significance and applied it to her local community. The environmental issue in this IA was the high ecological footprint meat consumption has.

Data Collection

Considering the research questions above, you can see that they both rely on data from experimentation or surveying. It is important to make sure that data can be collected on the topic you choose. A great measure to make sure you can find enough information on your topic is by searching published research papers and experimental investigations. Secondary research is important too! Choosing topics that have been dealt with by professionals and experts helps you understand how to deal with your line of methodology, whether it be surveying or experimentation. Citing published work also helps your results gain more reliability and strengthens your IA!

Data collection is crucial because it helps you gain points in the planning part of the IA, and this also means that you can effectively conclude your writing. It helps the examiner see that you are aware of the various ESS concepts and methodologies regarding data and research collection. A research question is successful when the research done can be used to construct diagrams that can be analyzed and used to interpret patterns. Results and analysis are worth 6 marks!

Regardless of the type of ESS IA you choose, remembering these tips will help you choose a successful research question. And even if you don’t get it right on the first try, you can always edit later with your teacher’s help! Don’t stress and good luck!

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