How to Structure an Economics IA

This post will go through what you should write in your Economics IA, with step-by-step instructions and with word counts for each section.

What you need to know before you write:

  • Avoid writing anything that isn’t going to earn you marks. You’re going to need all the words you can get for your analysis and evaluation. Avoid quotes from the article and introductions longer than 2 sentences.
  • Stick with one section of the course (micro, macro, international, or development). Don’t start off in micro (apple prices rise, supply and demand, elasticity) and then evaluate the potential macro effects (this could hurt economic growth). Even if this is true, the IA is about going deep into one part of the course, rather than showing the linkages between different parts.
  • Less is (often) more. Because of the very constraining word count (750 words) you’ll want to focus on really developing just one or two (two at the most) diagrams in your IA. And only evaluate one potential solution (the one in the article or one of your choice if (and only if) there isn’t one in your article. Some of you, I know, are wondering, “What if the article mentions two solutions? Like price ceilings AND subsidies?” Answer: the International Bacheloreate Organization says you can highlight the section of the article you’re going to focus on, so just highlight one solution (and not the other) and you’re good to go. Bibliographies are not obligatory, but they’re nice. And if you include them, they won’t count against you for the word count.

Now you’re ready. Here’s the Method:

Key words (150 Words)

Don’t waste words with a lengthy introduction (or quotations). Instead right away start explaining the case using at least 4 course words (and then use more later). You may want to define some of these words, but we’re definitely not looking for a list of definitions. Actually definitions are not specifically required in this new syllabus. The rubric only asks for terms to be “used appropriately.” So you can get away without definitions if you are using terms in ways that show you definitely know what they mean. If you do define some words (which is still advisable) , do so only after you’ve used them in a sentence.

Also, make sure to always use the economic terms rather than the common terms for things throughout your IA. So instead of writing “money” write “consumption” or “expenditure” or “spending.” This will help to convince the reader you are familiar with the subject.

Draw the Diagram (0 Words)

The diagram (and it’s titles, etc) do not count in your word count.

You need to diagram the problem explained in the article. And also diagram your solution. Sometimes both the problem and the solution can be shown on one diagram. Sometimes not.

Of course don’t include a diagram (or any theory at all) that doesn’t help you to explain the case.

Include in your diagram as much information as you can. It will need to:

-Use a full title such as, “The Market for Apples in Singapore”

-Label all of your lines

-Mark all of your intersections with a letter, so you can refer to them later in your article

-Shade in and fully label the areas of the shapes on your diagram (i.e. excess demand),

-Indicate the exact prices and quantities (or percentage changes in price or quantity if they are included in the article. If not, label them Q1, Q2, P1, P2, etc.

Show as much as you can in your diagrams. A clear picture can help you tell a lot. 

Obviously you will want to fully label your X and Y axis. Let’s look at a simple supply and demand curve for apples:


Fully explain your diagram (200 words)

A big mistake students make is that they will identify the key concepts that explain the case, but they don’t explain how those concepts work.  They skip steps in their explanation. It’s human nature to do that. We all do that all the time. We assume the reader is understanding what we’re saying. In this case you can’t do that. You need to force yourself to explain things step by step. Let’s look at an example. I have a students’ (practice) commentary in front of me that reads:

“Supply shifts inward because there was a draught. This leads to a higher price and a lower quantity demanded”

Maybe you’re thinking this isn’t too bad. However, this student has skipped a few steps. He doesn’t make it understandable to a reader who doesn’t know the theory. If you have to be an expert to understand what you’re talking about you aren’t doing it right. You can’t think of your reader as an expert. My student here could have written something like:

“The leftward shift of the supply curve means that, for any given price, less is supplied. This creates excess demand at the original equilibrium price, which puts upward pressure on price. Producers receive the signal to increase their prices and they do.”

Writing like this (step-by-step) isn’t easy. Luckily in this case you get to edit your own writing as many times as you want before you hand it in.

Develop Your Explanation (100 words)

Analysis is about explaining how the theory relates to the case. You have already done a lot of that by FULLY explaining your diagram. But now I want you to take it a step further. Go deeper in your explanation. For example, explain how what is happening in the article is not exactly what the theory said would happen (i.e because of the external factors that exist).  Explain to us to what extent the theory you have used explain what’s actually going on in the article? And show the linkages between different aspects of theory. Basically you’re trying to take it to the next level. But you aren’t evaluating. You’re just making sure that you have fully explained the theory and how the theory relates to the case.


Evaluate a solution (300 words)

Every article is about a problem. For example, apples are too expensive after the drought. In your commentary you’re expected to evaluate ONE possible solution. If one is mentioned in the case it must be that one that you evaluate. You can suggest one and evaluate that only if a solution isn’t already mentioned in the article. You want to choose the most appropriate (most likely) solution here, rather than one that is obviously not going to work at all.

To evaluate you’ll need to use at least 3 different (CLASPP) approaches. (The CLASPP approach to Economics evaluation is explained here). Try to include “assumptions” of the theory if you can, to show the limits of the theory and that it doesn’t always work out in real life.


In the final of the 3 posts on Mastering the Economics IA we will take a detailed look at the 2013 rubric and use a checklist to make sure you really do get full marks.

Thanks to my fellow HL Econ teachers Niamh Bowman (at OFS) for her feedback on this method. And also a big thanks to Thanks to John Gangi (at United Nations International School in Hanoi and author of and Kaisar Dopaishi (DP Economics workshop leader and Principal of Singapore International School, India) for their helpful feedback.

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83 Responses to How to Structure an Economics IA

  1. Mariam Nafissatou Tapsoba says:

    literally just saved my life

  2. Jane says:

    Hi, if the article says there has been a decrease in exports from Korea to China. Can I comment and analyse a graph on how the korean currency will depreciate against the chinese currency, ceteris paribus, although this is not mentioned in the article and does not happen in real life since China has devalued its currency (i could evaluate this after). Is that possible, because otherwise I have no second graph. (and the other graph I have is for the solution mentioned in the article)

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  4. Tim Woods says:

    Hi there Kim. Using quotes in the Econ IA isn’t really that bad, except that it doesn’t earn you any marks and it eats into your word count. It’s better, therefore to write in efficient sentences that don’t restate things that are in the article –at least not too much. It’s fair to assume that your reader has just read the article and you can go ahead and just make sense of it for the reader.

  5. Tim Woods says:

    Hi there. You should be fine to evaluate only the solution(s) proposed in the article. If there are no solutions proposed in the article then you can suggest something and explore that. All the best!

  6. Tim Woods says:

    Hi Amy. You raise some very interesting questions. I am a little nervous to get into this stuff too deeply with you because I suspect that your teacher might be wanting you to sort these issues out for yourself in your IA. Would you like to try talking to your teacher (and your class) about these questions and then come back to me if there is anything (preferably, a concise question 🙂 I can still help you with?

  7. kartikeya khandelwal says:

    Hey Tim! Is it absolutely necessary to only mention your own solutions if they’re no solutions mentioned in your articles? I am asking you this question because I have referred this with 3-4 IB economics teachers who teach in different schools, that it is alright even if you suggest your own solution, considering you think that the solution in the articles isn’t apt.

    • Tim Woods says:

      Hi. The issue is really about word count. It’s tricky to analyse your own solutions AND the ones suggested in the article. If you can do it (without eating into the words you’ll need for other parts of your IA) it would be great to do both. All the best. Great question!

  8. Tim Woods says:

    Thanks Angie! Cool of you to say that! 🙂

  9. Tim Woods says:

    Thanks Adriel. Good spotting. I’m impressed. That’s true –well mostly true. The reason that’s written like that is because the old IA criteria valued students not only using key words, but also explaining or defining them. These days we still like to see some of the keywords explained or defined because many examiners still value that.

    I’m going to leave in that 150 words for key words, but these days you might be able to get away with not using them for that. Thanks so much for noticing that and giving me the chance to explain it.

  10. drishti says:

    Dear Mr Woods, how many diagrams do you need to include to get a good grade? If more than one Diagram then how many words should you use to justify your diagram?

    • Tim Woods says:

      One diagram is almost always enough to attain the highest marks. The key is to go deeper with that one diagram, explain it’s limitation, etc. If you use more than one don’t go too far over the word count suggested. All the best!

  11. Tim Woods says:

    Hi Minj. It’s hard to answer your question fully without reading your IA. And, I’m not allowed to do that, because of IB rules. Would you like me to do a video explaining how to reach the higher marks on the Econ IA?

  12. Kristin says:

    Hi, I am writing my micro IA on “Booming Electric Car Sales Have Become A Problem In Norway”. The article discusses how electric cars has become a problem in the society due to it´s benefits such as driving in the bus lane (“exempt from urban toll payments or fees at public parking spaces, where they can recharge batteries without cost. But above all, they are exempt from Norway’s sky high sales taxes and VAT.”)This creates traffic delays. Still, there is an argument that we can´t remove the fiscal incentives, because then the consumers will shift to driving fossil fuel driven cars again.. What topics in micro economics can I cover for this? I thought about explaining how electric cars became so popular. To reduce the negative externalities of consumption by fossil fuel driven cars, the government promotes benefits for people who drive electric cars. This reduces the negative externality and welfare loss. And then show the demand for electric cars. Would that be possible to do or?

    And is the consumption of cars a market failure?

    My article:

    • Tim Woods says:

      It sounds like one form of a negative externality of consumption (crowding streets, etc) has replaced the old type (pollution). I would suggest exploring the normal diagram for that form of externality and evaluate that trade-off.

  13. Alicestupy says:

    I evaluated a l ittle bit during my analysis, is that ok? Or you think that is just the explanation?

    • Tim Woods says:

      Evaluating within the analysis is fine. I suggest putting more of it toward the end (where markers often expect to find it), but it’s certainly fine to do it earlier if you’d like.

  14. Keegen Payne says:

    Thanks a ton! I have used this article to guide me for my last 2 IA’s and when I was assigned my 3rd and final Econ IA, the first thing I did once I got my econ article, was open this page. Much appreciation from Pearson College UWC!

    • Tim Woods says:

      Thanks so much. I really appreciate you saying that. I’m a big fan of Pearson College! I used to work for provincial government in Victoria. I love that area! Enjoy it. 🙂

  15. Tim Woods says:

    I’m glad. Thanks!

  16. Tim Woods says:

    Hi, yes you can. I normally suggest trying to avoid development as a topic for the IA’s because there are so few diagrams you could use. But the poverty cycle one can be used. Good luck.

  17. Erin M says:

    Thank you so much for this – I’m writing my third IA, and neither of my other two grades have been wonderful. Not bad, just not amazing. So thanks.

    I do have one question–how important is it that I stick to the word counts you give. I’ve been keeping track as I go, and my key words, diagram explanation, and I haven’t found a way to include step 4, but my analysis is almost 400 words, and I still have things to add. Is this a problem?

    • Tim Woods says:

      Hi Erin. Thanks. It’s not important to stick to my word counts. They’re just rough guidelines, but you should make sure to try to give yourself a lot of words for your evaluation. I know that can be a hard think to do though. One way to do it could be to define fewer words, because we care a lot more about correct usage of terms rather than full definitions. Good luck!

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  19. Janani says:

    Hi Mr.Woods, Thanks so much for this! I just had one question. The article I have at the moment talks about negative externalities to do with the lowering prices of oil. I get all the theory part of it but the article gives the solution to the problem already by saying they should have fuel taxes placed. Should I just evaluate this idea or do I have to come up with my own solution that is different from this? Thanks so much!!

  20. Tim Woods says:

    (Sorry for the delay, getting back to you.) In this case I suggest that you switch articles if you can. Often it’s easy to find another article about the same situation, which might not have any solution mentioned. Technically, you shouldn’t be skipping over a solution that’s already mentioned in an article. You could try to evaluate 2 solutions (your’s + the one mentioned), but that would be hard to do in the word count.

  21. Tim Woods says:

    Just be as brief as you can be about mentioning those things. Definitely don’t include the diagram. The idea of course is that you’re focusing just on international econ concepts in that IA. You’ll only just have enough words available to do that, without going into anything from micro. Good luck with it!

  22. Tim Woods says:

    Hi there. I’m really sorry, I’m not allowed to tell you what the answers are when it comes to your actual IA. There are IB rules about this, because it has to be your own work. Sorry, good luck!

  23. Tim Woods says:

    Sorry, I can’t really give this kind of advice with your Econ IA. The IB doesn’t allow that much help. Sorry. Good luck.

  24. Tim Woods says:

    Hi Stephanie, sorry for the late response. Assuming your article was talking about a recession, this would be considered a problem, at least in the short-run. And there are things the government could do. If the article discussed a boom and then a recession you could take the option to focus on just the recession parts of the article. You’re allowed to do that (just focus on part of the article) when the article is a long one. Hope my response wasn’t too late to be of use to you.

  25. Tim Woods says:

    I’m really sorry, I don’t think I can answer that. We’re not supposed to give you that kind of specific help with your IA. Sorry. Good luck though.

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