Does a TOK Essay Need a Bibliography? (Quick Answer!)

January 9, 2024

TOK bibliography

This guide focuses on the question, "does a TOK essay need a bibliography", plus additional information that can help you score top grades. 

As one of the requirements for an IB diploma, you must write a TOK essay for external assessment based on one of the titles provided by your instructor.

Writing a good essay requires that you understand the knowledge issues properly, focus and analyze them, create links and comparisons, and demonstrate a sophisticated and relevant understanding.

Also, you need to provide proof of independent thinking, supply various examples in support of your thesis, and also provide a different and captivating perspective that shows your self-awareness on the issue.

Analyzing the TOK essay requires insight and depth, justified key points, assumptions, implications and arguments and counterarguments.

Also, you should structure the ideas supporting your thesis well with factual accuracy, explaining the main points in detail.


Does a TOK Essay Need to Have a Bibliography?

The simple answer is, yes. As in any academic paper, students must fully acknowledge in detail any work, ideas, or thoughts of another person in case they use them in the paper submitted for an assignment.

Similarly, you should never give your work to other students in whatever format, as they may submit it for assessment as their own work.

But this is not to say that you should provide a reference for everything you write in the essay. For example, factual information considered common knowledge does not require referencing.

A good example of this type of information is “There are 11 players in each team in a football match”.

However, you need to remember that what is regarded as common knowledge in one culture may be unknown to another person, for instance, an examiner in another part of the world.

In case you are unsure, the best thing to do is to provide an authoritative source backing up the claim. You may have argued your case most carefully, however, without proper citations, it will not look secure.

The main rationale of referencing in TOK is to allow for traceability of your source. The easiest way to do this is by reference your work using an accepted citation method.

A common challenge comes when citing discussions or class notes. Citing factual claims or ideas that originate from these types of sources need to be as accurate as possible.

For instance, you should go to the extent of supplying the speaker’s name and the discussion date.

Where factual claims form a fundamental part of the essay argument, you should check the claims and ensure that you supply a proper and traceable source to back them up.

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Bibliography Structure

While the TOK essay is far from being a research paper, if you use specific sources, you must ensure to acknowledge them in the bibliography section of the work.

The Works Cited section should only include works like journals, magazines, online sources, and books that you consulted while writing your TOK essay. Also, the bibliography needs to specify the following:

1. Author(s)

Your bibliography needs to include the author's name or more where they are many.

The surname should come first followed by initials if any. In case the authors are more than three, you should reference the first author and then write the abbreviation, which means “and all”.

Certain sources, for instance, websites, may not have a known author. If that is the case, you can use the title of the webpage, document, or the organization name.

2. Date of Publication

Your bibliography should also include the publication year or even a specific date, in the case of newspaper or journal sources.

In the case of a webpage, indicate the date that the work was last edited or updated.

3. Title of Piece

The title of the piece also needs to be included. It could be the article, journal, or web page title, or book name. The standard practice is to italicize titles.

In the case of books, also indicate the edition to enable others to easily find information.

Although the information on books remains largely the same when it is republished, it may be re-ordered. This means page numbers may be different in various editions, which is why you need to include the edition.

4. Publisher Information

It’s mostly relevant for books.

5. Page Numbers

In case you cite a specific area of a book, make sure you indicate the page number or numbers that you used in the work.

For instance, p 123 shows that it is page 123 you referenced. For multiple pages, you can use pp 120-125.

Why Reference?

Referencing is a critical part of any academic work. That is because it puts the work in context, acknowledges others’ work, and demonstrates the extent of your research.

The rule of thumb when it comes to referencing is that you should do it anytime you use somebody else’s idea.

Here are more reasons why you should reference your TOK essay:

  • It ensures you are not penalized for plagiarism because it shows clearly that the ideas aren’t your own but somebody else’s.
  • It shows that you understand the topic thoroughly.
  • Provides evidence supporting your arguments, opinions, or ideas
  • It enables other people to trace the sources you used.

When to Reference

Any time you borrow an idea from the work of another person, for instance, from a textbook, website, or journal, you must indicate the original author.

This makes the source of the idea abundantly clear.

You must do this whether you have summarized, directly quoted the work, or paraphrased it. Referencing is an integral part of academic writing.


You can write a TOK essay to completion without necessarily including any references.

However, in case you referred to any opinions or facts, theories or views of other individuals, you must reference them in the standard manner, making sure you follow the IB Academic Honesty principles.

Put differently, a TOK essay uses the same referencing that you would have done if you wrote an Extended Essay.

You are free to use any major style of referencing as you wish or as your teacher recommends.

But the most important thing to remember is to follow your chosen style consistently.

About the author 

Antony W is a professional writer and coach at Help for Assessment. He spends countless hours every day researching and writing great content filled with expert advice on how to write engaging essays, research papers, and assignments.

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