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Extended Essay (IB): Finding and selecting sources

To guide IB students through the Extended Essay process. New format for September 2020.


Finding and selecting sources

There is a huge range of resources available to you, and your most important task at this stage will be filtering these sources and using your time as efficiently as possible.

Start by looking exploring our Recommended Resources - Upper School guide to see which resources we particularly recommend for your subject. Then spend some time having a look around to see what is available, and talk to your supervisor or another subject specialist about the list of keywords you are building if you are having trouble.

If you still cannot find what you are looking for, come and have a chat with the Library staff and we would be happy to help you. 

If you need help with refining your Research Question, have a look at the previous tab on Developing a Line of Inquiry.

If you need help with making effective notes from your sources, have a look at the next tab on Working with Ideas.

Choosing which type(s) of resource to use

We have a wide range of books and subscription databases available - and you have the vast resources of the internet at your fingertips, so where should you start? Different resources are useful for different purposes.

Begin by looking at the home tab and the tab for your EE subject on our Recommended resources - Upper School guide.

Recommended resources guide

Effective search strategies

One of the most important features of any search strategy is the key words and phrases you use - computers aren't mind-readers although some internet search engines are very good at 'guessing', subscription databases and the library catalogue are less so. This can actually be helpful as you have more control over the results you get in a database than on the internet, but when you are used to internet search engines it can also be a challenge.

This keywording tool (that you may have begun to use in the Developing a Line of Inquiry tab) will help you to develop an effective search strategy, and will also help you to discuss that with your supervisor and the Library staff if you need any help. Don't forget to check the second page of the document for useful hints and tips on how to use it.

There are many websites with excellent tutorials on Boolean searching (searching using AND, OR and NOT) if you want more advice. For example, this one from MIT Libraries:


Search for books using Heritage, our online catalogue.

  • Think about using different search terms. The results depend on your terms being used in the title, as a keyword or in the abstract. Use the keywording resource above to record your search terms as you work.
  • Look at the classification numbers of any promising results. Other books at these classification numbers will be on a similar subject. Go and look at the other books on the shelves at these classmarks. You are very likely to come across other books on your topic that weren’t picked up by your search.

If you really cannot find any books relevant to your topic, please speak to a member of library staff or use the link on this page to email the relevant Librarian for advice.We might be able to identify books to buy or to borrow from another library. Similarly, if you come across a reference to a book that looks particularly useful that we do not have, let us know and we can try and get hold of it for you.

Subscription databases

The Library subscribes to a number of Subscription Databases which you can then use for free. These are high-quality sources of articles and images for academic research. You can either filter the list above by subject, or the Recommended resources - Upper School guide gives you detailed guidance as to which are particularly suitable for your subject.

Note that there are different links (given in the document above) for using some databases in school or at home, and passwords are provided where necessary from home.

Internet searching

Please visit the Recommended resources - Upper School guide for advice on how to search the internet effectively for academic sources.

The following is a comment from the IB on using 'online encyclopaedias' such as Wikipedia (from The IB Extended Essay Guide: The Research and Writing Process: Academic Honesty):

Note that, while you might use a tool such as this as a starting point for general background information and to help you locate other, more reputable sources, during the Connect stage of your research, you should not be citing it in your final piece of work.

Evaluating sources

Whether you are using print or online resources, you need to consider whether you think they are suitable for your inquiry and why. Consider the:

  • Currency: How important is the age of the resources you use? This will matter more in some subjects than others.
  • Relevance: Does it address your core question?
  • Accuracy: How do you know it is accurate? Have you checked it against other sources?
  • Authority: Who wrote it? What qualifies them to write in this area?
  • Purpose: Why has it been written? To sell you something? To convince you of a point of view? Or is it academically neutral?

The resource below can be used for CRAAP testing, and is particularly useful for websites.

Data collection

Primary vs secondary data

In some EE subjects it is compulsory to process raw data of some sort. This may be:

  • PRIMARY DATA which you have collected yourself, for example through experiments, questionnaires and surveys, interviews or observations.
  • SECONDARY DATA which someone else has collected (through methods like those above) and you have found, for example in a published study or paper, or from a database or website. For example, if you wanted statistics collected by the UK governement on a wide variety of social and economic issues, you might look at the Office for National Statistics website.

Whichever sort of data you have, it is very important to think about and comment on how it was collected and how that may affect your results. A tool like the CRAAP test is just as useful for data as it is for other types of source, paying particular attention to study/experiment design and sampling.

PRIMARY DATA: Questionnaires

A well-designed questionnaire can be an excellent way to collect relatively large amounts of primary data fairly quickly. A poorly designed one is a waste of everyone's time and can cause a lot of stress when you try to analyse the results and realise that the questionnaire did not work as intended.

In the interactive lesson (NearPod) below, Mr Foster leads you through how to design an effective questionnaire, and gives you lots of tips and advice. This lesson should take you about 10-15 minutes to complete.

Questionnaire Design Nearpod

Forms logoNote: As Mr Foster recommends in his Top Tips, we strongly advise you to use Microsoft Forms (available through the Office 365 link on Oakham Start) not Survey Monkey for online questionnaires as the free version of Survey Monkey is quite limited. For example, you can only ask ten questions per survey and you cannot download your results to analyse them.

  • If you need general help getting started in Microsoft Forms, have a look at the Microsoft tutorial page. Note that for data collection you should select New Form not New Quiz when given the choice.
  • If you have a specific question either about Microsoft Forms or questionnaires in general, or are stuck, do contact Mrs Fear, Mr Foster or your supervisor.


Settings to check before sharing your Form...

Before sharing your Form, make sure you check the settings (click on the three dots at the top right of the Forms screen).

You will (I hope!) have thought carefully about the sample of people you are surveying.

  • Is that just people from within the school, or does it include people outside? The default is that only people within Oakham School can respond, so if you are sending it outside the school you need to select "Anyone can respond". If you are sending a questionnaire to people outside Oakham School, please ask your supervisor to have a look first, both to confirm that it is suitable and that they are happy for you to send it to the people on your list.
  • If it is internal, do you need to know respondents' names? Usually it is better to leave a questionnaire anonymous if you can. [External questionnaires cannot record respondents' names].
  • You will generally want to tick the "one response per person" box to stop people completing the questionnaire multiple times (unless you have asked them to for some reason - e.g. a fitness diary they complete every week. In that case you would probably want to record their names so that you can match their responses from different weeks).
  • Do you want to add a start and end date? If you do, be careful not to make the window too small or you may not get many responses.
  • Do you want to be notified by email every time someone fills the Form in?

Investigative Journal

An excellent way to keep track of your investigation. Use one page per source and don't forget to insert a citation at the top of the page. If you choose not to use it, think about what you will use instead.

This is an ideal tool for using in your Researcher's Reflection Space.

Annotated bibliography

This resource will help you to keep track of all the different sources you find. Once you start working with each source in more detail, you will also need a tool like the Investigative Journal to organise your notes.

MInimum information to gather for citing and referencing later

It is so frustrating when you are under pressure to write up your work and you suddenly realise you can't find all the information you need to reference a source! Ideally you would gather all the information you need as you go along, but what is the minimum you need to gather to make sure that you can reconstruct the reference at the end?

  • For books: Title, author, publisher, date and place of publication and the page number of any useful quotes. There are no shortcuts here!
  • For websites: full URL and date accessed. However, if you think the site is likely to change then gather all the referencing info at the start
  • For online articles (from a database), make sure you have the permalink if you are offered it, and the date you accessed the article. The title of the article and the database you accessed it from should be enough to locate it again if there is a problem with the link later. Don't rely on a URL - for some databases this will just take you back to the home page.

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