Study Guide: Sample EPQ topics

A depiction of the Vikings in a twelfth-century manuscript. Image sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

If you are interested in doing an extended essay for your EPQ, it can sometimes be difficult to narrow down a topic. This page will take you through the early stages of planning and researching an extended essay project, using the example of an essay relating to the history of the Viking Age, although these skills are transferrable to other topics and disciplines.


Where to start?

If you are in need of inspiration, there are two possible courses to take. The first is to do some reading around of secondary literature. This might involve reading a survey of the topic. These surveys will often touch upon key issues and may start you on the path to discovering a topic that interests you. You might also find an interesting topic by reading internet articles or blogs—although be careful in these instances, as unannounced opinions and misinformation often plague such sources (for a guide to independent study on the internet, click here).

The following page steers you through a different method of structuring of a possible research project by reading primary sources. We explore the preliminary steps one might take using examples taken from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and the Annals of Ulster. However, these are only intended to be examples that will teach you the research methods necessary to construct your own project using different sources.

At each stage, consider for yourself the research how you would answer the questions posed and formulate your own research areas, before revealing our suggestions. You may well come up with directions that we didn’t think of!

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (E manuscript)

793: Here terrible portent came about over the land of Northumbria, and miserably frightened the people: there were immense flashes of lightning, and fiery dragons were seen flying in the air. A great famine immediately followed these signs; and a little after that in the same year on 8 January the raiding of heathen men (the Vikings) miserably devastated God’s church in Lindisfarne island by looting and slaughter.

The Annals of Ulster

852: … 3. The complement of 160 ships of Findgennti (Pale Foreigners = Vikings) reached Snám Aignech to give battle with the Dubgennti (Dark Foreigners = Vikings); they were fighting for three days and three nights, but the victory as won by the Dubgennti (Dark Foreigners = Vikings) so that their opponents left their ships in their hands. Stain escaped by flight and Iercne, having been beheaded, lay dead.

853: … 3. Amlaím (Olaf), son of the king of Laithlind, came to Ireland, and the Gaill (Foreigners) of Ireland gave hostages to him, and tribute was paid by the Irish.


Close Reading

One of the best ways to come up with a study topic is to do a close reading of a text or a number of texts; this can help to provide you with ideas or avenues of thought that might not have occurred to you. When doing a close reading, nothing in the passage you are reading is irrelevant.


When attempting a close reading, nothing in the text you are reading is irrelevant. Besides the events that are described, even small details such as the words used can provide you with the basis for an analysis. Furthermore, you do not necessarily need to have a wider knowledge of the events being referred to in order to pick up on details: it is good idea to be able to develop the skills to carry out close readings without having prior knowledge. Test yourself now by doing a close reading of the two examples given; make a list of all the features which you can notice. Then, you may wish to read the background to the events listed in these sources on the following pages of this website, before rereading to texts to pick up on anything that you may have missed:

Once you have done this, expand the sections below to see what we came up with! For each feature that we have noted, we have inserted a little bit of broader context. Bear in mind that you may have come up with stuff that we didn’t think of—that doesn’t mean that these findings are less valid. Finally, consider the similarities and differences between the two texts, as this may point you towards shared themes or ideological divides.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle
The Irish Annals

Research questions

Once we’ve got an idea of the subject or theme we’d like to explore, we can expand our project beyond these two small extracts and being to structure a larger project. To do so, it is important to come up with key research questions that we can keep in mind when conducting further research. Sometimes, simply devising research questions might lead you to a topic that you would prefer to explore.

In the following section, we give examples of the kind of research questions one could ask oneself at the outset of a piece of research. We have divided these into three sections based on the type of project one might wish to pursue: a source analysis, a historical analysis or a thematic analysis.


A source analysis extends the scope of the project beyond the extracts above to consider the texts they appear in as a whole.

What kind of source is it?
Where and by whom was the source composed or commissioned?
Why was the source produced?
How has the source been preserved?
How does the style or genre of the text affect its usefulness as a source?
The Viking Age

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