• The Research Process

    In this stage of the research process it's time for the student to locate the information the student need - identify the "how and where" for the sources the student will use to write the essay.  The important thing to remember is to not be overwhelmed by the amount of information out there, just collect what might be useful for supporting your research question.  If the student looks in the right places and searches efficiently. they can find relevant resources quickly and easily.

    Advise on using free and general encyclopedias: DON’T!!!

    • they tend to be general encyclopedias
    • very often the author is unknown
    • there is no guarantee that the content meets standards of academic rigor—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.

    The student will produce an annotated bibliography to explain to the supervisor about the quality of the 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 the student to understand more about the material the student find in the research.  

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

    (This video from Kimbel Library is a quick, if irreverent, 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 Hartness Library gives definitions and examples of primary and secondary source 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.   


    Kimbel Library, perf. The Information Cycle. Joshua Vossler, Script writer, Narrator, and Hand; John Watts, Script writer and Hand; Tim Hodge, Editor and Hand. Coastal Carolina University, 2 Aug. 2010. Web. 16 Aug. 2015<>.

    Hartness Library. Primary vs. Secondary Sources. Technical College, 1 Aug. 2012. Web. 16 Aug. 20 https://the g0plq2E9ZjQ>. 


    Searching effectively in databases and on the Internet

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

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

    • If the student has a choice, choose the Advanced Searchoption, it will allow the student to limit the search in a number of ways.
    • When planning the search, remember to use the keywords the student identified in the 'Define' section.
    • Don't forget to use Boolean Operators to create the 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 the student use so the student doesn't go around in circles.  Note down particularly useful search strings.
    • Use quotation marks to group 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 separately).
    • Verify important information by looking for the same information in a several reliable sources.


    • If the student uses Google, at least use Google Scholar.  Google Scholar searches only articles from reliable sources like universities and academic sources.

    Using Boolean Operators

    Search engines allow the student to use words, referred to as Boolean operators) such as "and," "or," or "not." Knowing how to use these terms is very important for a successful search. Most search engines will allow the student to apply the Boolean operators in an "advanced search" option.

    • AND  is the most useful and most important term. It tells the search engine to find the first word AND the second word or term.
    • OR    use OR when a key term may appear in two different ways.
    • NOT    NOT tells the search engine to find a reference that contains one term but not the other. This is useful when a term refers to multiple concepts.

    More information on the use of Boolean Operators can be found by going to the Purdue Online Writing Lab, or OWL.

    Why the student needs a range of sources

    • It's important to be aware of the range of information sources that are available to the student 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 the student may not immediately think of such as maps, annual reports, conference proceedings and theses.  All sources have strengths and weaknesses and the student should consider these when deciding on the most appropriate sources to use in the student research.