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Extended Essay: Identify Keywords

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

Finding Useful Keywords and Exploring a Theme

Try using these tools to help find a focus for your research and discover possible keywords to use as search terms when looking for relevant information.  See:


It's important to put together a search strategy that will make finding the information you need easier.  Your topic and its characteristics determines where you should look.  See:

Examples of choosing an appropriate search strategy

Look at the parts of your question to help identify keywords.  See:

Breaking down a question

Thinking about definitions and synonyms can help with identifying keywords.  See:

Britannica ImageQues Scrabble Pieces 300 1832468-W

Carrot2 search on the words 'humanitarian' and 'NGOs', circle view and search on the words 'humanitarian' and 'NGOs', foam tree view

Carrot2 is an Open Source Search Results Clustering Engine. It can automatically organize small collections of search results, into thematic categories.  You can see these results either as a tree or you can click 'visualize' to see a diagram like the one shown here.  If, as in the example above, you were thinking of doing a project on Humanitarian NGOs, you could search for the keyword terms Humanitarian and NGOs, and it will bring up a number of related topics, such as disaster relief, faith-based and secular organizations,  and IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation.  You can choose one of these topics to see those relevant results.  This may help you to find research topics for a subject you are interested in.


Spend time thinking about what you know about your topic.  Write it down and then copy what you have written into  This will give you a cloud similar to the one to the right which will emphasize the keywords of your current knowledge.  This will give you an idea of the key areas you already have some knowledge of and may highlight a potential topic you would like to focus your research on.

This Wordle is created from a magazine article about the Cascadia subduction zone, a fault line off of the Pacific Northwest coast.  From this Wordle you can see that the author has concentrated on the potential dangers of the destruction and loss of life after a major earthquake and the tsunami that would follow. The word cloud suggests some other keywords that could be used when researching this topic.  (The word 'Goldfinger' appears frequently because the author quotes Oregon State University paleoseismologist Chris Goldfinger many times in the article.)

Schulz, Kathryn. "The Really Big One." New Yorker 20 July 2015: 52-59. The New Yorker. Web. 22 July 2015. < . 

Choose an Appropriate Search Strategy

Your topic will determine your search strategy.  Here's an example.


Topic Its Characteristics Where to look

Internet surveillance
in the workplace

current, influenced by
technological changes,
need recent sources

-recently published books
-the Web

Limitations of medications
for childhood obesity

both the popular media and scholarly
journals have covered this

-specialized encyclopedias
-specialized database
-general database
-the Web

Theodore Roosevelt's role in
the evolution of America's system
of national parks and forests

has been investigated and debated by
professional historians

-locate books
-locate scholarly articles in
specialized databases<
-locate newspaper articles from
historical sources
the Web for more primary sources

Breaking Down a Question

Say your question is this:

To what extent is the development of the Alberta Oil Sands worth the environmental and social costs?

 Step One: Identify the key concepts and define/explain them. (What key concept is implied in this question but not explicitly stated?)

Step Two: Think of synonyms for each.

Step Three: Start a mind map of these concepts and add ideas, facts etc... that relate. Keeping adding to it as you learn more. Take your keywords for searching from this mind map.

Try using to help find keywords for your topic.

Use to find the definition and correct pronunciation of a word, its word origin and history, examples of the word's use on the Web, the British definition, and varying meaning of the word in specialized areas of study, such as medicine, science, and culture. will check through "21,589,880 words in 1061 dictionaries" for you!

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