ASSESSING MASTER STUDENTS CITATION BEHAVIOUR BY MINING REFERENCE LISTS IN THESES. A PILOT STUDY
Entering at a Master’s level means that the student will encounter a level that is more intellectually demanding and more challenging than before. They need to use information sources in various ways and at this stage it is important that they access research and theory-based literature. A primary sign of quality in good research is that it is founded on well proven sources of theory and previous research, and that it utilizes the proper technique of referencing. In order for the students to acquire sufficient search skills, including how to cite and refer, the library offers information literacy training that is timed to happen at the point of need. This requires that they master the research process being able to pose questions and seek answers, to use and apply techniques and research skills, to analyse data, to review literature and write up results in an academic format appropriate to the discipline.
According to Carlson (2006, p15), as student’s progress academically, sources cited should demonstrate students' "growing sophistication and ability to think critically in their chosen discipline." But is this really the case? One way to get a sense of this process is to look at what types of sources the graduate students cite in their theses. This study used citation analysis in order to “mine” reference lists obtained from master theses for assessment purposes. The aim of this study is to investigate what kind of information sources master students use in their theses and the author studied the citation patterns in 36 Master's theses.
A total of 2173 references were checked and out of them were 886 (40,7%) journal articles. The students used 479 different journals and 378 of them were peer reviewed. 380 (79,3%) journals were kept by the library. 175 (54,6%) book or book chapters were kept by the library out of the 320 used by the students. They also used other sources such as reports of different kind (11,4%), Web pages (0,6%), Grey literature (0,6%) and conference papers (0,2%) to mention a few. Students used 60 references as an average in their theses.
Although the accuracy of the citations was beyond the scope of this study, the author noticed a number of problems such as incomplete citations, inconsistent journal title abbreviations and inconsistent use of citation style formats. The author carried out bibliographic searches in order to rectify any incorrect or incomplete citations and this required extra work to correct, but was also indication that we might alter our information literacy training and emphasise more on citing and referencing.
Findings indicate that these graduate students surprisingly seems to prefer scholarly journal articles and books or book chapters. The author had anticipated another picture with more references to the Web.
This pilot project provided new and important information about the use of collections by master students. The authors learned that the library’s journal coverage is good enough but that the monographic coverage is somewhat less complete. The author will continue to do another study with new theses from 2013-2014 in order to investigate if our new emphasis on citing and referencing had any impact on the inconsistencies that have been seen in the first study and also if the same pattern of information sources used by earlier students occur.
 Carlson, J. (2006), An examination of undergraduate student citation behavior, The Journal of Academic Librarianship 32(1):14-22.