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Extended Essay: Conducting Secondary Research

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

Secondary Research - Aims and Purpose

Infinite library - Britannica ImageQuestIf you are undertaking an EE in any subject you are required to complete some secondary research. The purpose of secondary research is to: 

  • provide context for your own area of research within its wider discipline and/or issue
  • give you ideas for refining your proposed research topic and/or question
  • give you evidence of why your research is worthy of investigation
  • provide material you can use when you analyze and evaluate your own data

On this page find information on:

How to ... Check Reliability of Secondary Sources
How to ... Annotate, Take Notes, Bookmark
How to ... Evaluate Internet Sources
How Can I Tell If a Source is Scholarly?

and these videos:
         How to Conduct Effective Research & Organize Your Research With Diigo

How to ... Check Reliability of Secondary Sources

It is important that you consult relevant and reliable sources in your research. You need to evaluate all the sources that you use for your secondary research. 

The question usually emerges about the reliability of wikis, online encyclopedias and other similar information sites.  (See: Advice from the IB on Evaluating Sources (Online, Print, and Multimedia). These kinds of sources may be useful in the initial stages of research to gain an overview of a topic. However, an over-reliance on them should be avoided. 

See also: Cautions from IB on Using Free Online Encyclopedias (such as Wikipedia).

How to ... Annotate, Take Notes, Bookmark

You will want to take detailed notes from all the sources you use.  Your RRS (Research's Reflective Space) may be a good way for you to collate all of your information in one place.

Annotating is an excellent skill for making critical commentary or explanatory notes on a piece of text, image or table, for example. Get creative! Use different colors to code different parts of a text, underline or circle important parts, pose questions or simply express a reaction to what you are reading. 

Bookmark online sources either by using the bookmarking feature in a browser or an online social bookmarking tool such as FavoritUs ( You can select tags so that you can easily find useful articles and resources again. 

Likewise, you can copy text and images from online sources into a word processor program and annotate them, or annotate them online using available tools, such as Diigo. Check out the videos below - they show both approaches. 

And don't forget - make sure to create citations in NoodleTools for all of your sources!  Using NoodleTools will ensure that you are meeting the minimum requirements of the IB as outlined both in the Extended essay guide and the IB's Effective citing and referencing document.

Videos: How to Conduct Effective Research & Organize Your Research With Diigo

This video contains 4 lessons (approx. 2 minutes each) that provide students with a formal process for conducting, documenting, and analyzing the quality of information they have researched. It also provides teachers with a quick, easy-to-use rubric for assessing their students' research and their critical thinking skills. Chapters include 1-Scholarly vs Non-scholarly Sources, 2-Documenting Research (copying articles into single Word file), 3-Highlighting Important Passages & Commenting, 4-Assessment.

Education tutorials. How to conduct effective research: A key process for students in writing. 16 February 2011. YouTube, Accessed January 2017.

An introduction to Diigo, the powerful social bookmarking tool. Part 1 of this 3-part series shows you how to bookmark items, highlight them, add sticky notes, and organize your items into lists. To read a full review of Diigo, go to

Cult of Pedagogy. Organize your research with Diigo (Part 1 of 3). 13 February 2014. YouTube, Accessed January 2017.

How to ... Evaluate Internet Sources

How Can I Tell If a Source is Scholarly?

'A Scholar', oil painting, 1933, by Paul Klee - Britannica ImageQuestWhat is a scholarly source? 

Scholarly sources (also referred to as academic, peer-reviewed, or refereed sources) are written by experts in a particular field and serve to keep others interested in that field up to date on the most recent research, findings, and news. These resources will provide the most substantial information for your research and papers

What is peer-review?

When a source has been peer-reviewed it has undergone the review and scrutiny of a review board of colleagues in the author's field. They evaluate this source as part of the body of research for a particular discipline and make recommendations regarding its publication in a journal, revisions prior to publication, or, in some cases, reject its publication.

Why use scholarly sources?

The authority and credibility evident in scholarly sources will improve the quality of your paper or research project. Use of scholarly sources is an expected attribute of academic course work.

How can I tell if a source is scholarly?
The following characteristics can help you differentiate scholarly sources from those that are not. Be sure to look at the criteria in each category when making your determination, rather than basing your decision on only one piece of information.



  • Are author names provided?
  • Are the authors' credentials provided?
  • Are the credentials relevant to the information provided?


  • Who is the publisher of the information?
  • Is the publisher an academic institution, scholarly, or professional organization?
  • Is their purpose for publishing this information evident?


  • Who is the intended audience of this source?
  • Is the language geared toward those with knowledge of a specific discipline rather than the general public?


  • Why is the information being provided?
  • Are sources cited?
  • Are there charts, graphs, tables, and bibliographies included?
  • Are research claims documented?
  • Are conclusions based on evidence provided?
  • How long is the source?


  • Is the date of publication evident?

Additional Tips

Each resource type below will also have unique criteria that can be applied it to determine if it is scholarly. 


  • Publishers 
    • Books published by a University Press are likely to be scholarly.
    • Professional organizations and the U.S. Government Printing Office can also be indicators that a book is scholarly.
  • Book Reviews 
    • Book reviews can provide clues as to if a source is scholarly and highlight the intended audience. 


  • Are the author's professional affiliations provided? 
  • Who is the publisher?
  • How frequently is the periodical published?
  • How many and what kinds of advertisements are present? For example, is the advertising clearly geared towards readers in a specific discipline or occupation?

Web Pages

  • What is the domain of the page (e.g. .gov, .edu, etc.)?
  • Who is publishing or sponsoring the page?
  • Is contact information for the author/publisher provided?
  • How recently was the page updated?
  • Is the information biased? Scholarly materials published online should not have any evidence of bias.

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