KWL diagram

In 2002, US Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld made this statement in a press conference, in response to a question about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq:

"There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns -- the ones we don't know we don't know."

People many have ridiculed Rumsfeld for using these words in this context, he actually articulated an idea that scientists have understood and respected for ages. These three concepts, 'known knowns', 'known unknowns' and 'unknown unknowns', are very relevant for an exploration of your research question. They are also closely related to a method of learning known as 'KWL'

‘KWL’ stands for ‘know’, ‘want’ and ‘learn’. The KWL diagram and these three questions were popularised by Donna Ogle in the 1980s: ‘What do you know’, ‘What do you want to learn?’ and ‘What have you learned?’ They help you identify existing knowledge, frame your inquiry and reflect on your research respectively. A form like this, as simple as it may look, is good to develop in your Researcher’s Reflection Space (RRS) and discuss with your supervisor during the EE journey.

KWL worksheet (Word)
KWL worksheet (PDF)
What I know What I want to learn What I have learned
Known knowns known unknowns Unknown unknowns
Point of departure Target of research Discovered by research


The main question asked in the Theory of Knowledge course is: 'How do you know what you know?' But what about the things that you don't know? To what degree can you know what you don't know? As you conduct research, keep in mind that you will change your mind about your research. A good Extended Essay and RPPF will show awareness of the limitations of the research and methodology. This is to say that you will have to evaluate (your own) research and arguments to score well on Criterion C: Critical thinking. And it's OK to be critical of yourself! 


Criterion E: Engagement asks candidates to articulate how decisions were made in response to challenges. Filling in several KWL diagrams throughout the EE journey, as entries in an RRS, will help inform the RPPF and help you score better marks on this criterion.

Last modified: Thursday, 21 May 2020, 2:44 PM