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The research behaviour of economics students at German universities and the way in which they manage information is presented in the Leibniz Information Centre for Economics (ZBW) study report “Information literacy in economics students – evaluative report of an online survey carried out with economics students at German universities in 2017” (link in German), which is available now.

For the study, a nationwide survey was carried out online from 2 August 2017 to 10 September 2017. The survey included structured online interviews with some open answer sections and a research task which had to be completed.

The focus of the sampling was to have as comprehensive a survey as possible for economics students at German universities and technical colleges. In total, 646 complete interviews were carried out, which included university students (51.9%), students at state-run technical colleges and universities of applied sciences (39.0%), students at private technical colleges and universities (7.4%) and other universities such as distance learning universities and cooperative state universities (1.7%).

Different provision of manuals, literature lists, collections of texts

The main outcomes of the survey include the following: The majority of economics students receive from their university or department a guideline to academic works. This is not the case, however, for a good third of students, or these students are not aware of such a guideline.

Just under 90% of the economics students surveyed consider it to be very important or important to receive support in their seminars on academic works on how to properly cite works. Around the same number of students consider identifying trusted sources to be something that is important or very important seminar content. 77.2% considered guidance on different approaches to searching for literature using search engines and databases to be a valuable element of courses on academic works, whilst 76.2% considered the valuable element to be research tips and tricks for databases, and 61.4% considered the valuable element to be information on literature management programmes.

The majority of students receive literature lists or collections of texts from their lecturers that are so good that they do not need to carry out independent research. Of those surveyed, 21% more often receive complete collections of texts. Some 33.6% receive no collections of text at all.

Independent research also causes problems as studies progress

Independent research is primarily carried out to prepare for seminar papers and projects or presentations (81.3%). Other instances include research for lectures (47.2%), research for bachelor, masters or diploma theses (41.3%), and preparation for oral and written exams (38.5%). To search for economics literature, the students surveyed most frequently use Google, Google Scholar, Wiso, EBSCO, JStor and EconBiz.

The biggest problem for around two-thirds of the students when searching for literature lies in obtaining the full text. Finding accurate search terms and assessing the relevance of hits causes problems for around half of the students. When comparing responses from first-year students and more advanced students, it is clear that there is no improvement in their assessment of the problem. In fact, more than 60% of advanced students find it difficult to access the full text. Around half of the students find it cumbersome to find suitable search terms. Lack of confidence when researching afflicts 43% of advanced students and 45% of first-year students (1st to 3rd semester). Only when assessing the relevance of hits can any improvement be seen over time. Whilst 64% of first-year students still find it difficult to assess whether or not a search result is relevant for their own work, 50% of advanced students still find this difficult.

Strengthen information literacy. The ZBW – Leibniz Information Centre for Economics provides support

The results of the study show that gaps in the information literacy of economics students still remain.

To help close these gaps, the ZBW has created information literacy videos which are available on YouTube. The series consists of six tutorial videos in German, which are available with English subtitles:

“Your first assignment” playlist

Additional information:

Information literacy in economics students – evaluation report of an online survey carried out with economics students at German universities in 2017” (link in german)

Visit the background page “Research skills: Write your best Assignment” on EconBiz.

YouTube tutorials:

Authors: Dr Doreen Siegfried, Birgit Fingerle (ZBW – Leibniz Information Centre for Economics)

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