Scholarly (Academic) Research

  • Systematic investigation into a specific topic to increase our understanding
  • Participation in an ongoing conversation on a topic
  • Conducted by and for university scholars, professors, experts, or professionals
  • Often reviewed and refereed by peers
  • Some are published in professional or scholarly journals
  • Conventional steps of the research process are followed
  • Includes components that are standard within the discipline (abstract, introduction, literature review, methodology, data/analyses/results, conclusion, citations for source materials)

The Research Process (overview)

Use these resources to look for a topic:

  • This is what your essay is about/what you plan to prove or disprove.
  • Your research question will guide your investigation.
  • Your research question must be focused and specific.
  • Your research question may evolve/change during the research process
  • Example Extended Essay research questions:

Source: P. Hoang & C. Taylor. Extended Essay. Hodder Education, 2017.

  • Secondary sources: These provide context, background information, definitions, rationale for your methodology, viewpoints to consider, etc.
    • Types:
      • Books, scholarly studies, authoritative encyclopedias, articles, websites, videos, podcasts, etc.
  • Primary sources: These are usually the main sources for your investigations.
    • Types:
      • Original documents/images/speeches/laws/posters/maps; original works of art/ literature/recordings, etc.
      • Experimental methods/equipment; theorems/proofs/equations; tools for surveys/interviews/ sampling, etc.
  • Discover what other scholars have written on your topic.
  • How does previous research relate to your research question? (Similarities, differences, scope, focus, application, objectivity, methodology, etc.)
  • Create a Literature Review, linking existing research to your investigation. (See “Secondary Research” below for more details.)
  • Analyze your source materials (primary or secondary sources). Use your research question as the basis for your analysis.
  • OR
  • Collect your data
    • Quantitative data (quantity or amount): experimental, numerical
    • Qualitative data (quality or kind): surveys, interviews, observations
  • What are the results of your investigation?
  • Critically evaluate your evidence
  • Use your evidence to construct arguments
  • How does your evidence answer your research question?
  • Reliability: Can your results be replicated?
  • Validity: Have you answered your research question?

Introduction (1 paragraph)

  • State the topic (What’s the problem/phenomenon/issue?)
  • Ask the research question
  • State why it’s meaningful to me/the field
  • Scope of research, sources to be used, line of argument to be taken

Literature Review (1-3 paragraphs)

  • What research has already been done on your topic?
  • How does existing research relate to your research question? (similarities, differences, scope, focus, etc.)
  • Use your Annotated Bibliography

Methodology (1 paragraph)

Describe how you will answer your research question

  • What is the rationale for your choices of primary sources? Are your analyses designed to help answer your research question?


  • What is the rationale for your test or experiment? What steps will you take? Is your investigation designed to produce results that help answer your research question?

Body (bulk of essay)

Primary investigations:

  • Critical analysis/evaluation of primary sources


  • Results of experiments, surveys, etc.

How does this evidence help answer your research question?

Conclusion (1 paragraph)

  • Synthesize the evidence
  • Answer the research question based on the evidence presented
  • State how this answer is meaningful to me/discipline/society
  • State limitations of study, unresolved questions, recommendations for further study
  • Keep a list of links, books, and articles you use.
  • Make a note of which resources you got your information from, and the page or paragraph where the information appears.
  • This information will be used to create a Bibliography, Works Cited list or References list.
  • For more information, see Citing Sources. and MLA.
  • draft
  • feedback
  • edit
  • repeat

Secondary Research

  • What have others written on your topic?
  • How does it relate or compare to your investigation?
  • How does your investigation build on previous research?
  • Secondary sources interpret, analyze, or describe information originally presented elsewhere.
  • Generally, the author did not participate in the event.
  • Usually written with the benefit of hindsight.
  • Books, scholarly journal articles, newspapers, magazines, websites, films, TV and radio programs, other published materials
  • There is no exact requirement for the amount or type of secondary sources you should have.
  • It depends on your topic and research question.
  • You should aim to include at least 2 scholarly articles.
  • Identify the subject of your research (Math, Biology, Art, etc.)
  • Clarify the topic of your research (your focused research question)
  • Locate your topic within a search engine
  • Identify keywords related to your topic. (Think about your topic in broad and narrow terms)
  • Use the database “Advanced Search” to locate items tagged with your keywords
  • If the list of results is too long, narrow your search using database tools:
    • Add another keyword
    • Specify a format (book or article)
    • Specify a publication date range
    • Choose a sub-topic
    • Use Boolean Operators (AND, OR, and NOT) and quotation marks
  • Your secondary sources must be relevant and reliable.
  • Creating an Annotated Bibliography will help you to critically evaluate your sources (see below).
  • Synthesize your secondary research into a 1-3 paragraph Literature Review, linking existing research to your investigation.
  • Your Literature Review can be included in your introduction, or it can appear under a separate heading.
  • The title of the heading could be “Literature Review”, “Background”, or “Context” for example.
  • The heading should NOT be called “Annotated Bibliography”.

Annotated Bibliography

  • An annotated bibliography synthesizes the secondary sources you intend to use to support your paper.
  • Provides context and background for your research.
  • Demonstrates that you have critically evaluated your sources.
  • Helps you use your sources to support your evidence and construct your arguments.
  • Bibliographic Information (author, title, date, journal, url or doi, page range)
  • Author‘s credentials
  • Theme (1-2 sentence synopsis)
  • Support for the work (links, data, bibliography)
  • Usefulness of the work as it relates to your research topic
  • Synthesize your Annotated Bibliography into a 1-3 paragraph Literature Review.
  • Include the Literature Review at the beginning of your paper. (see “Secondary Research” above)

IBO Subject Guides for Extended Essays

Evaluating Online Resources

Use the CARS checklist to evaluate internet resources:

  • Credibility
  • Accuracy
  • Reasonableness
  • Support

Spotting Fake News

Don’t be fooled! Think critically about the news you read.

Google Scholar

Using Wikipedia Wisely

  • Wikipedia is useful for general information and for hyperlinks to more in-depth resources.
  • Academic research requires resources that are more focused and more reliable than Wikipedia articles.
  • For a selection of relevant and reliable resources, search the “Resources” pages on this website.

Google Search Techniques

Boolean Operators