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Extended Essay: Define Your Topic

A guide to the research and writing process required for students completing the IB Extended Essay.

Need Help Defining Your Topic?

Defining your EE topicGetting a better definition of your topic will require some research. See this page for tips on using: 

Google Scholar (and other free educational search engines)

Smart search engine strategies (with Google, Bing, etc.)

Databases and websites that present both sides of issues

Databases and websites with background information - just to get you started

WSA Library books and digital resources

Google Scholar (and other academic search engines)

Google Scholar Search Tips


Finding recent papers

Your search results are normally sorted by relevance, not by date. To find newer articles, try the following options in the left sidebar:

  1. Click "Since Year" to show only recently published papers, sorted by relevance;
  2. Click "Sort by date" to show just the new additions, sorted by date;
  3. Click the envelope icon to have new results periodically delivered by email.

Locating the full text of an article

Abstracts are freely available for most of the articles. However, reading the entire article may require a subscription. Here're a few things to try:

  1. Click a link labeled [PDF] to the right of the search result;
  2. Click "All versions" under the search result and check out the alternative sources;
  3. Click "Related articles" or "Cited by" under the search result to explore similar articles.

You might also find, through Google Scholar results, JSTOR content that is licensed by West Sound Academy. This is possible due to a partnership between JSTOR and Google Scholar. When Google Scholar sees a user coming from an IP address that is associated with a participating institution, and that user’s search returns results to which they have access on JSTOR, that user will see a link to JSTOR next to the result. You will need to be searching from a computer on the WSA campus for this to work.

Getting better answers

  • If you're new to the subject, it may be helpful to pick up the terminology from secondary sources. E.g., aarticle for "overweight" might suggest a Scholar search for "pediatric hyperalimentation". 

  • If the search results are too specific for your needs, check out what they're citing in their "References" sections. Referenced works are often more general in nature.

  • Similarly, if the search results are too basic for you, click "Cited by" to see newer papers that referenced them. These newer papers will often be more specific.

  • Explore! There's rarely a single answer to a research question. Click "Related articles" or "Cited by" to see closely related work, or search for the author's name and see what else they have written.

Other Academic Search Engines

Smart Strategis for Google Searches

Google search modifiers -  when you need to refine your results to give you more of what you need.


Exclude a word or a site - Add a dash (-) before a word or site to exclude all results that include that word.  You can also exclude results based on other operators, like excluding all results from a specific site. Examples:

  • [seville -car] gives results about Seville, Spain and omits results about the Cadillac Seville
  • [peregrine falcon] gives results that omit any pages on Wikipedia

Search for an exact word or phrase -  By adding quotation marks around your search term you will get only results that include all those words in that order. This can be useful when looking for a line from literature. song lyrics, or information on a specific person or location. Example:

  • " it's been a long cold lonely winter" gives results with the Beatles' song, Here Comes the Sun, where this phrase appears

Use 'OR' to get one result or the other - If you are looking for results on one topic or one other topic, and nothing else, use the OR modifier (aka Boolean Operator) to get the results you want. Example:

  • [Stonehenge OR Newgrange] gives results on both of these ancient sites: Stonehenge on the Salisbury Plain in England and the less famous Newgrange in the Boyne Valley in Ireland
Google Search Operators -  they help you get you results from specific websites, web headings, and file types.


A single website -  If you are looking for more results from a certain website, include site: in your query, followed by the site URL you want to use.  You can also search within a specific top-level domain like .org or .gov or country top-level domain like .ca or .au.  Examples:

  • [suffrage] gives results for the word suffrage on the Smithsonian Institution website



"I need to choose a controversial issue."

"I need to choose a controversial issue."

"I need background on possible topics."

"I need background on possible topics"

WSA Library Books and Digital Resources

The WSA Library has print and digital resources to help you with your research.

Search the WSA catalog for a book.  (Yes, a book!)! You can sign in with your WSA Google email and place holds. Just use the search widget to the left or go to the Library Catalog link here.

  1. Click the ‘Log in’ link in the upper-right hand corner.
  2. In the next screen, click ‘Sign in with Google’ and you're logged in!
  3. If you find a book in the catalog you want to check out, just click ‘Hold’.  The librarian will pull the book for you and send you an email to arrange for pickup.

Search WSA's Library catalog of digital resources - including WebPath Express, a collection of over 100,000 relevant, accurate, and up-to-date websites. Just use the search widget to the left.  Narrow results by: 

  • Topic
  • Source Type (dictionary, thesaurus, encyclopedia, magazine, news, primary source)
  • Format (media types such as eBook, interactive, music, video, animation, audio, image)
  • Language (English, French, Spanish, Chinese, and many others)
  • Domain (.gov, .com. .ca, .ru, etc.) 

File cards - Britannica ImageQuestAnd remember WSA's subscription databases! Links to those databases with peer-reviewed, academic journals can be found on this page.

Search the WSA Library Catalog - Small vertical

Find books, digital resources (ebooks), WebPath Express websites, and Open Educational Resources (OER).

Quick Links


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