Mahesh is popularly known as Mr Chem among IB students in the UK. Here are his 15 top tips to get your chemistry IA to its highest level.
1) Decide on an investigation topic which interests you and in which you are confident in your subject knowledge. By picking your best topic, you will be able to showcase clear chemistry throughout your report.
2) Once you have decided on the experiment, check whether it can be linked to a real world situation. For example, if you choose preparing esters as your favourite topic, then you can think about how to improve the essence of a particular ester in less alcohol and carboxylic acid or how the essence of an ester changes when you increase or decrease the concentration of alcohol or carboxylic acid or both.
3) Make sure your research question is clear and focused. Don’t write a vague question which no one can understand other than you.
4) Set a clear base with proper background information. Read through the content and make sure you bring only relevant points into the background information. Don’t write about organic chemistry, classification of alcohols, types of acids etc. If possible use any relevant stoichiometric equations and diagrams. Don’t confirm or decide your conclusion here. You will not impress your teacher or moderator by saying that you expect this result in the background information because when you know the result you don’t need to do the experiment to prove it is right. Finally, don’t cut and paste information from other sources to impress your teacher or moderator. They know very well what has been written by you and what has been plagiarised.
5) Selecting variables is a key in any investigation. Make sure you get a minimum of two independent variables which are measurable, and justify each and every variable if possible.
6) List apparatus and material requirements separately and make sure you clearly show the quantity and uncertainty of each one where appropriate. If there is available space, you can also give justifications of your choices in picking apparatus.
7) If someone wants to perform your experiment, they must be able to do so by reading your methodology. Keep it generalised. Don’t say, “I filled the burette with 50ml of ethanoic acid”.
8) No investigation occurs without safety precautions and ethical considerations, so make sure you spend some of your writing on the risk assessment.
9) Distinguish your data collection table for qualitative (if only appropriate) and quantitative data. Make sure a title is given to every table and graph. Label the axis and check that the table is clear enough to understand. Data collection can easily convey to your teacher/moderator how much care you have taken in your investigation and how precise you are in every bit of data.
10) Show clear working of raw data. Process the data with appropriate graphs with error bars. Show the errors and, if appropriate, discuss the qualitative data. These factors will encourage the reader to read the conclusion.
11) The conclusion is the right place to refer back to your research question with the support of your processed data. Compare your experimental data with theoretical data. Link the difference with the error calculation. Justify why you got the difference in value by discussing your weaknesses and the difficulties you faced during the investigation. Don’t forget to say what went well. It is always important to point out your strengths along with any weaknesses.
12) Wrap up your IA by saying what you will improve if you get another chance in future to perform the same experiment.
13) Don’t forget to mention how you could extend this investigation. Would you like to do further research in future on the same topic? Can you consider linking your IA with any other branch of science? Show curiosity and eagerness in your write up about your topic. This will gain some points in personal engagement and communication.
14) Check the presentation of your work. Ask yourself if your presentation is communicating interesting facts with clear chemistry. Remember, printing in colour ink doesn’t make good communication or presentation. Conveying your content in a clear way is the best possible communication. Don’t forget to check whether you are within the word and page limit.
15) Finally, check whether you have referred to everything in a bibliography in alphabetical order. Academic honesty is one of the emblems of IBDP.