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Extended Essay: Step 7. Identify Sources

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

The Research Process

Education icon with book - Britannica ImageQuestIn this stage of the research process it's time for you to locate the information you need - identify the "how and where" for the sources you will use to write your essay.  The important thing to remember is to not be overwhelmed by the amount of information out there, just collect what you think might be useful to you.  If you look in the right places and search efficiently you can find relevant resources quickly and easily.

See this page for information on:

Cautions from IB on online encyclopedias (such as Wikipedia)
Searching effectively in databases and on the Internet
Selecting appropriate information
Using Boolean Operators
Why you need a range of sources

See other pages in this section to learn how to find:
          Primary sources

Cautions from IB on Using Free Online Encyclopedias (such as Wikipedia)

Hazard warning attention sign - Britannica ImageQuestAs a tool for research, free online encyclopedias, such as Wikipedia, can be valuable resources, but there are several reasons why students should be cautious in using them:

  • they tend to be general encyclopedias
  • very often the author is unknown
  • there is no guarantee that the content meets standards of academic rigour—it may not, for example, have been through a process of peer review
  • the content can be unstable, in that it can change at any time.

A bibliography that only cites these for reference or an argument that is overly reliant on them will not demonstrate the necessary “range of sources” required by the assessment criteria for the extended essay. They may also not be relevant or appropriate for the research question being explored.  Many online encyclopedias are not scholarly sources; however, if used appropriately and critically they can offer a useful starting point for many students undertaking research. 

If you are using free online encyclopedias, you should do the following.

  • Follow the references provided by the encyclopedia; this will help to verify the information given.
  • Consider whether the article is part of a larger project, where a number of people are contributing to the discussion. If it is, then it implies that the writers have more than a casual interest in the topic being written about.
  • Look to see if there is a rating for the information provided. If there is then this means that the information has undergone some sort of peer review and been given a rating. While not the same as an academic peer review, it can aid the judgment of the “quality” of the information.

The key point to remember is if you do use information that is found on the Internet, you are responsible for ensuring that it is both reliable and accurate. You can produce an annotated bibliography as a way to explain to your supervisor about the quality of your sources. An annotated bibliography provides a concise summary of each source and some assessment of its value and relevance.

Adapted from "The research and writing process; Academic honesty, Using online encyclopedias and other similar information websites", from Extended Essay Guide, International Baccalaureate Organization, 2016.

Selecting appropriate information


It is important to appreciate when and how information becomes available, this can help you to understand more about the material you find in your research.  

Where does what you found fit in to the 'information cycle' for the event or topic you are investigating? 

(This video from USC Libraries is a quick, and current, explanation of this pattern of facts, analysis, and introspection surrounding events.)

When an historic, news-worthy event occurs, such as a terrorist bombing, earthquake, or weather-related disaster, information begins to be created almost immediately and will continue to be created for years into the future.  

If a major event occurs today, almost immediately there will be eyewitness accounts of the event, people who are there will take photographs, post their experiences on Facebook or Twitter, write a blog post or diary entry or send a text to a friend.  These are examples of primary sources of information.

(This video from University of Houston Libraries gives definitions and examples of primary and secondary sources, and discusses the value of each when researching.) 

Over time more information will become available in different formats; newspapers are published the following day, magazines a week or month later, journal articles after a few months, books follow much later and finally reports may take a number of years to complete.   


        USC Library, perf. The Information Cycle. University of Southern California, 29 Jul.
              2020. Web. 01 Feb 2022. <>.

      University of Houston Libraries. What Are Primary vs. Secondary Sources?
            University of Houston, 18 Mar. 2020. Web. 1 Feb. 2022.

Searching effectively in databases and on the Internet

By using effective search techniques you can find useful, relevant information without having to waste lots of time trawling through all those unwanted search results!

Use these tips to help you search a variety of information sources including databases, library catalogs, and the Internet.

  • If you have a choice, choose the Advanced Search option, it will allow you to limit your search in a number of ways.

  • When planning your search, remember to use the keywords you identified in the 'Define' section.

  • Don't forget to use Boolean Operators (find more information on this page) to create your search strings.

  • The truncation symbol (*) can be used to find variations of a keyword that begin with the same letters.  For example econom* would find economy, economic, economics, economical etc.

  • Keep track of the searches you use so you don't go round in circles.  Note down particularly useful search strings.

  • Use quotation marks to group a number of words together (ie "Top Gear" would search for all results with the phrase 'Top Gear' but would ignore those where 'top' and 'gear' only appear seperately).

  • Verify important information by looking for the same information in a number of reliable sources.

Using Boolean Operators

Use the Boolean Operators
 to improve your searches, by narrowing your search if you have too many results, widening your search if you have too few.


Boolean Searching is a very useful skill to learn and really easy once you get the hang of it!

Virginia Commonwealth University. Boolean Operators Tutorial. YouTube. N.p., 10 June 2010. Web. 14 Aug. 2015. <>. 


Twelve-step Plan for Researching the Extended Essay - Step 7

7.  Begin to identify how and where you will gather source material for your research.

Why you Need a Range of Sources

 It's important to be aware of the range of information sources that are available to you and the attributes, advantages and disadvantages of each.


There are many information sources, from the obvious ones like books, magazines, newspapers and Internet sites to those you may not immediately think of such as maps, annual reports, conference proceedings and theses.  All sources have strengths and weaknesses and you should consider these when deciding on the most appropriate sources to use in your research.

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