Academic Revision Tips

Tips for Researching in the IBDP

Few High School programs train you in researching as much as the IB. To prepare students for future projects like the college thesis, IB students are tasked with gathering, analysing, and evaluating a variety of sources to fuel their Internal Assessments, TOK Essay, and Extended Essay. If you’re coming from a school that doesn’t put as much emphasis on research and are about to start the Diploma Program, this is the article for you. I will be going over the methods and tools you’ll need to effectively search for sources, assess their value, and organize them easily and efficiently.

1. Searching for Sources

Knowing what sources to look for goes hand-in-hand with your research question, but even if you’re not 100% decided on your final topic, you can start by searching general terms on the internet. For example, if you were to investigate the effects of the First World War on France for a History IA, then you can search “World War One effects France”, or “France after World War One”. As you begin to get into the specifics, you can pick a certain effect of the war on France and include it in your research question: “To what extent did the First World War help forward women’s rights in France?”. Not only does this help you get a general background on the topic, but also helps you formulate your research question.

Once you get to a stage where you know what to look for, it’s important to know where to look. Personally, I use websites like JSTOR, ProQuest, or Google Scholar. Not all of those are free (your school would need to give you access), but a standard Google search works too. To make the most out of Google, there are several really useful tricks you can use:

Roel Palmaers’s Google Cheat Sheet

2. Evaluating Sources

You’ve probably heard this from a number of your teachers, but OPVL (Origin, Purpose, Value, Limitations) is key in researching effective sources.

  • Origin
    • Where does the source come from?
    • Who published it?
    • Who wrote it?
    • Where is the author from? What is their profession? Are they knowledgeable about the topic?
  • Purpose:
    • Why did the author write this?
    • What does the source aim to do?
    • Who is the intended audience?
    • Why was that specific format chosen?
  • Value:
    • What about its origin/purpose makes it valuable to you?
    • Is it specific to what you’re researching?
    • Is the author an expert in the field?
    • Is it a first-hand account of an even, or a secondary source with the benefit of hindsight?
  • Limitations:
    • Does the author have a potential bias due to where they’re from/their experiences?
    • Is it too general for your purposes?
    • Is the source not reliable?

3. Organizing Your Sources

By the time you start picking information from several sources, you’re going to have a lot of facts to use. One of the ways to keep track of all this information is to create a table in a Word Document, with a column for the name of the source, another for the main takeaways from that source and a third column to note down which parts of your investigation/essay a fact will be useful for. Here’s an example:

Source (name/genre/author)Info (key facts)Subheading/Paragraph
“1984”, Book, George Orwell*Insert quotation here*“How language can restrict thought”
Sample Summary of Sources

If you don’t have that much space, then you can choose to remove the third column and colour-code your bullet points instead.

Many aspects of the DP, especially the Extended Essay, require you to sharpen your researching skills by making sure you pick out good sources. This isn’t just to make your life more difficult, rather it’s to help you develop skills that will be very useful later in life. The last thing you want to do is start your coursework late and not have enough good sources, so now is the best time to start!


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