vol. 18 no. 1, March, 2013

Uncovering the research process of international students in North America: are they different from domestic students?

Yusuke Ishimura and Joan C. Bartlett
McGill University, School of Information Studies, 3661 Peel St., Montreal, QC, Canada H3A 1X1

Introduction. It is important for academic librarians to understand the nature of students' research process during assignment tasks, especially in relation to potential difference between domestic and international students.
Methods. Focusing on Japanese students in Canadian universities, the objectives of this study are to investigate factors that intervene in the research process and influence the development of information literacy skills and to identify potential difference between Japanese and Canadian students.
Analysis. Using qualitative methods, data were collected through portfolios, phenomenological interviews and flowcharts to identify factors and skills that are exhibited during assignment tasks. Eight Canadian and eight Japanese university students participated. Data were analysed using a constant comparative method.
Results. In this paper, we present preliminary results focusing on four major factors that were found to mediate students' information behaviour during research tasks: 1) assignment characteristics, 2) help from others, 3) personalisation and 4) time management skills. Not only do these affect students' behaviour, but they are also important indicators of information literacy skills development.
Conclusion. Comparison of the two groups reveals that behaviour is not influenced solely by cultural and linguistic differences, which are predominantly discussed in past literature. This has clear implications for how information professionals can rethink approaches to serving international students.


This paper reports on part of an on-going study that investigates Japanese students' information behaviour and consequent outcomes as they complete writing assignments for university courses in North America. In the current context of globalisation, many students are crossing borders to seek academic opportunities. At the same time, post-secondary educational institutions in North America are actively recruiting international students to increase campus diversity, benefit financially and broaden intellectual contributions (Lee and Rice 2007). As a result, the international student population on university campuses has seen a 30% increase in the United States and 60% in Canada over ten years (Institute of International Education 2011; Statistics Canada 2011). In particular, the number from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds from North America has increased.

Growing diversity on campuses has prompted academic librarians to respond to changing student needs. One important area of focus is improving information literacy skills, which are essential for academic success and lifelong learning. These skills entail recognising information needs and finding, evaluating and using information effectively for problem solving or decision making (American Library Association 1989). For university students, these skills are fundamental to academic success. However, academic librarians struggle to answer the question of how they can support international students with diverse needs, experiences and expectations. 


The overarching objective of the study-one aspect of which is reported here-is to understand the nature of undergraduate students' research process during assignment tasks. Another goal is to investigate potential differences between Japanese and domestic students in Canada. In reporting preliminary findings from the larger study, this paper focuses on: 1) what factors intervene in the research process, 2) how the factors affect students' information literacy skills and 3) what, if any, differences between Japanese and Canadian students exist. The results of this study have implications for how librarians can better serve diverse populations in support of their academic success.

Literature review

The relationship between international students and academic libraries has been examined more than two decades. Past studies have generally argued that international students' challenges to developing information literacy skills are derived from linguistic and cultural differences in academia.

For example, limited English language skills and lack of experience in the North American educational system can lead to difficulties in understanding professors' instructions and expectations for assignments (Baron and Strout-Dapaz 2001; Hughes 2005). In seeking information, non-native speakers of English often face difficulties in selecting terminology (DiMartino, Ferns, & Swacker 1995). Limitations in English skills present barriers to obtaining information and cause reliance on information channels within ethnic groups (Jeong 2004). Low confidence in English often deters students from seeking librarians' help (Jackson 2004; Liu 1993).

Academic libraries' resources and services can seem complex and daunting, especially for those who lack familiarity with the system. Libraries are regarded as a place for studying rather than researching in some countries (Hendricks 1991) and students may not be familiar with reference tools, reference services and open stacks (Allen 1993; Macdonald and Sarkodie-Mensah 1988).

Finally, educational practices and philosophies vary globally. In some countries students are required only to recall and memorise information provided by teachers. Teachers are often regarded as the sole relevant source of knowledge (Kumar and Suresh 2000; Sarkodie-Mensah 1998). Many students, therefore, are not familiar with the task of independent research. Also, different cultural understandings of text ownership, along with limited English proficiency, can lead to unintentional plagiarism (Amsberry 2010).

Although past findings are still relevant, many studies are based on librarians' anecdotes rather than empirical research (Curry and Copeman 2005). In addition, Varga-Atkins and Ashcroft's (2004) study concluded that the information skill levels of international and domestic students in the United Kingdom are similar. Their findings suggest that although linguistic and cultural differences are pertinent, other elements also drive students' behaviour. Thus, before planning strategies to improve their skills, it is critical for academic librarians to understand how and why students behave in certain ways and what kind of information literacy skills they have already developed.

Conceptual framework

The research presented here is grounded in Wilson's (1999) definition of information behaviour (i.e., information needs, information seeking and information use). Students' research process involves finding a focus for the task, seeking information and using information to present results. For students' tasks, the three elements of information needs, seeking and use are interrelated and not separable. In addition, various intervening factors can appear at any stage during the behaviour, directing the path in a particular direction. Therefore, Wilson's 1997 model is the baseline framework used in this paper. This structure then makes it possible to identify the mediating factors that influence international students' behaviour (Wilson 1997), as identified in the literature cited above.

Information literacy consists of the same components as information behaviour-namely information needs, seeking and use. In contrast to information behaviour research, the concept of information literacy is concerned with evaluating the quality of each element of information behaviour in relation to recommended guidelines. Although information behaviour research provides insight into the process and factors that affect behaviour, it does not typically address the quality or outcomes of the behaviour. Therefore, in this research, analysis of students' behaviour according to widely-recognised standards for information literacy competencies (Association of College and Research Libraries 2000) sheds light on the factors that affect students' abilities to conduct research tasks.1 If developing information literacy skills is the ultimate goal, the standards provide guidance on what students are trying to accomplish, how they can accomplish it and whether they have achieved the prescribed learning objectives (Grassian and Kaplowitz 2009). Use of information literacy standards adds another layer to information behaviour models in order to better understand the effectiveness of students' process and how their learning can be supported.

The relationship between information behaviour and information literacy is represented in Figure 1, which is the conceptual framework of this study.

conceptual framework
Figure 1: Conceptual framework


Participants in the study

The focus of the study is to investigate students from linguistic and cultural environments that are different from North America. In addition, given the study's qualitative methodology, communication abilities were essential to capturing students' voices and experiences authentically. Therefore, Japanese students in Canadian universities were selected as a manageable sub-population of the larger population of international students, building on one author's previous investigations of Japanese students' information literacy skills (Ishimura et al. 2008). Japanese participants were born and primarily educated in Japan since primary school and graduated from Japanese high schools.

To understand the context of Japanese students' behaviour and skills, Canadian students were also selected to participate in the study. Canadian students are defined as students who use English as their mother tongue and were primarily educated in Canada.

Participants were enrolled in 300 or 400 level undergraduate courses that included research paper assignments. In order to select information-rich cases, purposeful sampling was used to select participants (Patton 2002). Recruitment was conducted through student societies and additional participants were identified using snowball sampling (Patton 2002). Eight Japanese and eight Canadian students participated in the study (see Appendix). Japanese students had more variety in their area of study than the Canadian group due to the difference in potential population size.

Data collection and analysis

Data were collected through three methods: research portfolios, phenomenological interviews and flowcharts. Research portfolios were used to capture students' information behaviour and levels of information literacy skills in-depth. Students recorded their decision-making process, search process, actions taken and reflections on their actions (Salvia et al. 2007). They were regularly contacted by e-mail to track their progress. The researchers also collected students' final assignments for the portfolios. In addition to the research portfolios, phenomenological interviews were conducted following the three-step approach suggested by Seidman (2006). Through participants' past and current experiences and reflections on these experiences, the researchers were able to uncover why they conducted research in certain ways, from their own points of view. Finally, following Kuhlthau's (2004) methodological approach, participants drew flowcharts of their process. This method of data collection gave the researchers a broad view of students' research steps, strategies and decision making points. The data collected from research portfolios, interviews and flowcharts were consolidated and analysed using constant comparative methods for process and behaviour (Glaser and Strauss 1967). The collected data were also compared to outcomes articulated in ACRL's information literacy standards (2000) to assess participants' information literacy skills.


Information behaviour and intervening factors

Assignment characteristics

This category refers to the nature of students' assignments and the guidance provided. Assignment characteristics more relevant to Japanese students' behaviour; Canadian participants did not describe a particular influence from this factor. Five Japanese students reported feelings of confidence in their research path when professors provided detailed assignment guidelines while only two Canadian did. Some professors specified the types of sources to be used, which particularly helped students in their information seeking tasks. One participant described how this practice contrasted with her experience in Japan:

In Japan, faculty did not specify what kind of sources I had to use... But when I came [to Canada], professors told me I had to use academic sources, popular sources, newspaper articles and this journal. I think this is a big difference [between Japan and Canada]. [J5]

The factor also helped participants articulate what to do for the tasks. For example, one instructor specified that five elements should be included in students' papers: 1) description of Echinacea, 2) definition of cold and flu, 3) scientific evidence to support effectiveness of treatment, 4) non-scientific or anecdotal evidence, and 5) conclusion of its effectiveness. According to the participant, these elements made the task clear:

The professor explicitly told us what she expected for our papers. I simply found answers to her expectations. So I think this was easy to complete... [J8]

In a few cases among Canadian participants, instructors also asked students to prepare research proposals. This prevented participants from postponing actions until the deadline. Overall, the assignment structure affects whether students are able to discern the big picture of Wilson's process of information needs, seeking and use. It helps them anticipate the need for particular behaviour during tasks when professors provide detailed guidance.

Help from others

This category refers to the effect of interaction with peers, professors and librarians on students' behaviour.

Help from peers. All Japanese participants mentioned this factor's influence on their behaviour, while only three Canadians did so. Japanese students mentioned interactions with peers who were Canadians, while the Canadians reported interactions only with other domestic students. For example, one Japanese participant recounted how he did not understand academic expectations in Canada. He thought that he was supposed to analyse raw data for his assignment but later learned that this is not often required in undergraduate level work. His Canadian friends helped him to better understand what to do and he was able to clarify his information needs and the type of information-gathering activity required:

I thought analysing data and finding sources was tricky. In particular, it was almost the last minute when I realized that I had to find outside sources [e.g., journal articles]. I thought "Seriously?" because my friend told me that "I used 30 sources"... I thought something is wrong because I didn't use a single source (laugh). [J2]

In several cases, interactions with Canadian students had a strong impact on Japanese participants' information seeking behaviour. Another participant thought that the web was the most appropriate place to find information when doing academic work in Canada. She had changed her information seeking strategy as a result of observing Canadian students' behaviour.

I didn't use the internet for research in Japan. But I think, in particular, people in the Faculty of Management use the internet extensively. So I was looking at it and started using it... In Japan, I went to the library and asked librarians questions instead... [J4]

After completing their writing, some students asked peers to proofread their papers to improve the quality-a behaviour that fits in the category of information use. For Japanese students (e.g., J7), peer-editing focused on both structure and grammar, while Canadian students mentioned only the structure (e.g., C5).

I usually ask my friend to proofread my papers... I think usually 10% of my papers were changed... If it's for really serious applications, he completely rewrites the content in some places. If it's more casual, he does not change the content and fixes English grammar. [J7]
I asked my roommate to check [my writing] because she is a Poli Sci major. It's just nice to have advice... More towards structure. So you know whether this paragraph was too long or whether it flowed nicely and makes sense. [C5]

These are just a few examples that demonstrate how friends can have a strong impact on Japanese students' behaviour.

Help from professors. Since professors design and evaluate students' work, assistance from them can be an important factor for successful assignment completion. All students from each group mentioned that guidance from teachers influenced their behaviour, although each individual had a different experience. It was found that professors' attitudes had an impact on their motivation. For example, instructors' level of interest in students' tasks could encourage or discourage them from putting forth a good effort. Participants C7 and C1 experienced opposite sides of the spectrum:

when I went to my prof and said I was kind of thinking this [topic]... He said 'I love the idea.' So since he says that, OK I will do that because he really liked it. Then you know, it will be good; he'd be glad to read it and stuff... [C7]
[In this course], you don't need to go to class to write a paper...There is nobody in class. The subject is very interesting, but the teacher was not very animated or interested in listening to others. So he didn't make anything accessible [or] interesting. So people don't bother... [C1]

Students' information behaviour activities are often initiated by the reality that if they do not complete assignments, they fail their courses. However, the two instances above demonstrate that students' intrinsic motivation has an impact on the entire information behaviour process. Students with high motivation are spurred to take different actions than students with low motivation who put forth minimal effort. For example, those who had high motivation reported that they were more interested in learning about their topics, finding and using more sources and writing quality papers. The students who were less motivated relied on materials supplied in the course readings, did not use as many sources and did not spend time polishing the final paper.

Finally, instructors' guidance impacts students' information seeking behaviour. Participant J1 mentioned that a generic "library skills" workshop had not been helpful in the past, but when a professor introduced a specific database in the context of the course, she learned how to search effectively and applied the skills in subsequent courses. Similarly, past advice from a professor prompted participant C8 to avoid seeking information from certain tools such as Google and Wikipedia.

When I was told by the prof that you have to do research, he told us you should use databases. After that, I finally could understand how to use online databases [PubMed]. Having an assignment in front of me, the prof's teaching how to use databases in class-then I understand and could use them. [J1]
I don't know [why I immediately go to the catalogue], that's just how I've done research. Teachers always say don't cite Wikipedia and whenever you searched Google, always the first thing that comes up is Wikipedia. So that's why I stay away from that... [C8]

Help from librarians. It was assumed that interactions with librarians have a strong potential to influence students' behaviour, but it was very rare to observe this as an intervening factor in this study. Only one Canadian and one Japanese participant in the study mentioned asking librarians for help and they modified their behaviour as a result of the guidance received. Some students expressed hesitation in asking librarians for help. However, when students have a better understanding of librarians' role and have positive experiences in interacting with them, there is an impact on their behaviour. This finding may suggest that if students-either international or domestic-are more aware of librarians' role and the potential impact on their research process, they might more actively seek opportunities for assistance.


Each participant in this study developed different ways of completing research tasks. This section describes factors that made their processes unique.

Trial and error. In many cases, students identified what to do on their own rather than by being taught by others, developing their own styles with "trial and error" approaches. In other words, their current skills are a product of accumulated past experiences of success or failure. This factor was widely observed among six Canadians but only two Japanese participants. From an information behaviour perspective, the trial and error approach can change the entire course of the information behaviour process. Moreover, this factor affects students over time. One participant explained that she had figured out how to do research by herself:

It was all sort of figured out based on what professors would say in the first year, they mentioned that you should go and look at this database for articles. From there, I started to pick up on what worked best... It was all trial and error basically... [C2]

When students found that a certain approach was successful, they repeated the behaviour. If they failed or felt their behaviour was ineffective, they were motivated to modify their actions.

I tend to follow the same tasks and because I am doing OK in school, I am getting by. So I never really felt major shifts. I have never got so horrible a paper that I have to re-think my whole process because that just hasn't happened. This works so far... [C8]

These findings suggest that the information behaviours that students consider to be adequate or good enough were shaped through past experiences of success or failure. The judgment is based on their assessment of past outcomes rather than on an objective perspective. In addition, the current status of their behaviour represents the cumulative totality of past experience.

Serendipity. This category is associated with the trial and error process described above, affecting students' behaviour on a smaller scale within the domain of information seeking. Three Canadians and one Japanese student demonstrated this factor. For example, these students discovered sources and techniques for gathering information "by chance" rather than through systematic planning. One participant did not know about the library's licensed databases, but she described how she found Google Scholar, which she used to find articles:

Maybe I found Google Scholar by myself. Anyway, after getting into university... Yes, yes, I found a link and clicked it. Google has so many things. So I am using iGoogle and I feel often it changed. I think like, one day, what is this and clicked the link to Google Scholar. [J7]

Web pages with lists of resources compiled by librarians can be gateways to resources in specific disciplines. One participant found one of these subject guides by chance when looking for the database JSTOR on the library's website:

I was looking for how to access JSTOR because [at my previous school] we can just click [the school's] page. I kind of typed JSTOR into the search. Well, it took a while because it didn't just lead me right there. But I searched through and I found it [on the subject guide]. [C3]

Overall, one finding of the present study which is not discussed in past research is that students' current information seeking behaviour is shaped by serendipitous discovery of information resources and by past experience.

Time management skills

Students must select a topic, gather information and write their assignments while facing time pressures. Since students are assessed according to the final product, not the course of action that led to it, it is important to allocate time effectively. Time management skills, then, enable them to discern the overall process and allocate time effectively into the steps related to information needs, seeking, and use. This factor's impact was observed in the behaviour of five Canadian and three Japanese participants. Since one participant had allocated too much time on information seeking, not use, the professor recommended a better plan:

So my professor, he was right, he is like, you spent a lot of time on research, but you didn't spend much time on writing... He says, my principle was maybe do 50% of research and really 50% writing... I was like 70%, 80% of my time for research. He's like yeah, that means your 20% wasn't much for writing... [C4]

The rationale for time allocation can be explained by students' understanding of each aspect of the process and their abilities to make priorities. One student commented:

Yeah, that's the thing-finding information is not the end... yeah you can keep reading more and more but at some point, you need to say, "I have enough information". [C7]

Information literacy skills and intervening factors

To this point, factors affecting information behaviour have been discussed. In this section, the same factors are examined in the context of information literacy skills as defined by the ACRL (2000).

Assignment characteristics

Assignment characteristics are associated with students' skills in identifying information needs. As mentioned in the previous section, clear guidelines helped students to select appropriate types of sources for the tasks. This especially helped four Japanese students to satisfy outcomes under ACRL Standard 1.2, which refers to skills in recognising types of information and how these are used in a given discipline. The level of detail in assignment guidelines seemed not to affect Canadian students, because almost all demonstrated the outcomes for Standard 1.2 regardless of the assignment characteristics factor. Assignment guidelines also affected students' outcomes related to defining an overall plan as described in Standard 1.3.

Help from others

Japanese students viewed Canadian peers as role models in terms of information behaviour. This has significant implications for the goal of improving international students' information literacy skills. The students' research logs showed that there were certain points at which they decided to search for information using particular tools (e.g., Google, Google Scholar and library catalogues). From an information literacy perspective, the help factor affected four Japanese students' outcomes in Standard 1.2, related to identifying types and formats of information and Standard 2.1, related to selecting appropriate investigative methods (e.g., analysing scholarly articles). However, although they could demonstrate some of the baseline skills, they expressed a lack of understanding as to why these behaviours were appropriate. Therefore, it is uncertain as to whether the skills could be transferred to future experiences.

In addition to finding articles, four Japanese students learned how to use appropriate citation styles from Canadian peers. For example, a friend told J2 to use a web-based citation generator called Bibme to format his reference list in APA style. One of the citations he created looked like the following:

Office of Transportation and Air Quality, C. a. (2007). Light-duty automotive technology and fuel economy trends: 1995 through 2007 . EPA420, September 2007, 1-86.

This citation contains the basic elements, but the student seems to lack recognition of the bibliographic units. The required elements for a report are mixed up with the formatting for a journal article and the corporate author given an extra abbreviation of some kind. Although the four Japanese students who relied on their peers attempted to use a particular citation style, they did not show an understanding of citation mechanisms. Thus, they partially satisfied the outcome of the standard, while all Canadian students used citation styles properly with only minor errors. Competencies in formatting citations are outlined in ACRL Standard 5.3.

The peer-editing process improved the clarity of the students' final products and enabled them to communicate with professors effectively. This skill is described in Standard 4.1. The students potentially could have sought out additional opportunities to improve the quality of the arguments and organisation of their papers, but a strong connection between peer-editing behaviour and information literacy skills was not observed (both Canadian and Japanese).

Professors' influence on students' motivation is associated with the overall quality of all elements described in the ACRL standards rather than with a specific information literacy skill. Professors' guidance spurred students to seek reliable information, for example. However, as demonstrated in the example of the student who opted to rely on internet searches despite past use of library resources, some students may not understand why certain sources are appropriate for seeking academic information without additional explanations.

As discussed in the previous section, two students had interactions with librarians and experienced an improvement in their research skills (e.g., in information gathering), but overall, this factor was not widely observed in this study. Students in both groups did not ask librarians for help or recognise them as a source of assistance. Thus, they did not meet the criteria for satisfying some of the outcomes in Standard 2.3 (e.g., Using reference services offered at institutions to retrieve information).


Each student had a different approach to completing their tasks. As discussed in the previous section, more Canadian than Japanese students worked out what to do in terms of finding, evaluating and using information on their own rather than by being taught. From an information literacy perspective, it is interesting to see that the personalisation factor showed a stronger presence among Canadian students in such areas as selecting sources to use, methods for investigation and understanding of scholarship). For example, one outcome under Standard 1.2 is that students have an understanding of scholarly communication (i.e., academic publishing). Four Japanese students articulated some knowledge of this area, while seven Canadian students demonstrated a strong understanding. A similar tendency was observed related to an outcome in Standard 2.1, related to selecting appropriate an investigation method (e.g., seeking out primary sources for historical research).

Some participants discovered effective search techniques by chance. This meant that some students thereby demonstrated skills that satisfied some of the outcomes in Standard 2, however, it was not widely observed across participants. For example, C2 discovered a truncation symbol and Boolean operators by himself via an explanation found on a database's search screen. This contributed to his abilities in conducting a search strategy (Standard 2.2). His search formula was:

pol* AND social* AND national* AND SDKPiL in "All Fields"

Since he developed this skill on his own, it is interesting to note that he made a somewhat ineffective choice is using the term pol* which is so broad that it will retrieve many false drops. Awareness of library subject guides led to students satisfying an outcome under Standard 2.1 related to knowledge of various information retrieval systems. C3 found the guide by chance as well. Overall, this study found that students could develop information literacy skills through trial and error, but this approach took time and sometimes depended on happenstance.

Time management skills

Similar to the effects of assignment guidelines, time management behaviour is tied to students' abilities to satisfy outcomes in Standard 1.3. Time management abilities are an overarching element of the entire process that are relevant to information literacy competencies. Time management skills enable students to create an overall plan for the assignment and allocate time appropriately. Even if students demonstrate sophisticated skills in, for example, gathering information, they will not be able to finish tasks successfully without time management abilities. Only two Japanese and three Canadians demonstrated mastery of the outcomes of Standard 1.3, due in part to challenges related to time management in information behaviour.

Discussion and conclusion

This study revealed that students' information behaviour and information literacy skills were mediated by a number of external and internal factors. However, the presence of particular behavioural factors does not guarantee that participants satisfy the desired outcomes outlined in the ACRL information literacy competency standards. In addition, it was found that the factors did not manifest themselves uniformly amongst the Japanese and Canadian student groups in this sample.

Assignment characteristics were a factor that particularly affected Japanese students. More specifically, the assignment type and level of detail in the requirements were major determinants of Japanese students' information seeking behaviour. At the same time, the assignment characteristics mediated the types of information literacy skills students demonstrated, affecting how they identified their information needs. As previous studies claim that international students tend not to have a strong understanding of library resources (e.g., Hendricks 1991), leveraging this factor could help international students better develop skills related to identifying information needs. From a behaviour perspective, when Japanese students had clear assignment guidelines, they were spurred to take appropriate actions related to finding and using information, even if they lacked the underlying understanding based in information literacy.

Combined with time management skills, assignment characteristics enabled a few students in both groups to foresee the entire process of information behaviour. This is also relevant to skills in developing realistic plans (Standard 1.3 of the ACRL competencies). It seems that planning is a very challenging skill to develop regardless of group. This implies that focusing only on information seeking during librarian-led instruction may not be sufficient. Librarians need to focus on the context of the entire information behaviour process to help students improve information literacy skills overall.

Canadian students demonstrated that their behaviour was largely influenced by the personalisation factor in terms of honing skills through trial and error. They tended to be independent and self-sufficient in developing their own process and skills. Moreover, and perhaps surprisingly, this factor helped students to develop advanced information literacy skills as well. In contrast, interactions with Canadian peers shaped Japanese students' behaviour in various ways, such as understanding expectations for assignments and use of resources. This finding contradicts Jeong's (2004) study that emphasises the importance of ethnic channels. As previous studies have shown, many international students have difficulties understanding expectations in academia (e.g., Baron and Strout-Dapaz 2001).

Interactions between Canadian and Japanese students thus have the potential to influence international students' behaviour and skills-either positively or negatively, depending on the individuals involved. Although improvement in skills is one possible outcome, the interactions reported in this study were not sufficient for students to develop the full range of competencies or understand why certain behaviours were effective. Moreover, the interactions could have negative effects, as when students mimicked their peers' tendencies to rely on web search engines rather than identifying other sources when appropriate. This result illuminates the possibility of using a peer-learning approach between domestic and international students, but it should be used with caution since peer-led interactions are not necessarily structured enough to lead to the development of comprehensive information literacy skills.

Interactions with professors helped students regardless of group and the interaction affected the totality of their information behaviour and skills. However, this factor was dependent on individuals rather than on group membership. Academic institutions have taken approaches of embedded librarianship to facilitate information skills development (e.g., Kvenild and Calkins 2011) and their efforts could be targeted toward influencing instructors' understanding of students' research process and provide help at the point of need during the process.

Although interactions with librarians did influence students' behaviour and skills positively regardless of group, only two students reported this experience. Previous literature sometimes argues that international students are not familiar with librarians' role compared to domestic students, but this study at least shows comparable lack of awareness.

In conclusion, this study reveals how the four factors of assignment characteristics, help from others, personalisation and time management skills intervene in information behaviour processes. This constitutes an empirical addition to Wilson's information behaviour model (1997). In addition, it was found that positive management of the factors intervening in information behaviour can have an impact on the quality of students' information literacy skills. Information literacy is conventionally seen as a checklist of skills to be achieved. However, students' skills development can be better facilitated by instructional interventions when informed by an understanding of the factors that affect the information behaviour process. Since the factors sometimes manifest themselves differently amongst Canadian and Japanese students, it is suggested that a better understanding of information behaviour will help librarians maximise international students' information literacy skills.


We would like to acknowledge the two anonymous reviewers who provided constructive feedback on this paper.

About the authors

Yusuke Ishimura is a doctoral candidate in the McGill University School of Information Studies. He has an M.L.I.S. from Dalhousie University. His Master's thesis and doctoral dissertation investigate international students' information behaviour and information literacy skills in Canadian universities. He can be reached at yusuke.ishimura@mcgill.ca
Joan Bartlett is an associate professor in the McGill University School of Information Studies, where she teaches in the areas of health information, bioinformatics and information literacy. Her current research interests revolve around information behaviour and information interaction, particularly in the context of biomedical and bioinformatics information. She can be contacted at joan.bartlett@mcgill.ca

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How to cite this paper

Ishimura, Y. & Bartlett. J. C. (2013). Uncovering the research process of international students in North America: are they different from domestic students? Information Research, 18(1) paper 564. [Available at http://InformationR.net/ir/18-1/paper564.html]

Appendix - List of participants

Japanese ID Sex Selected paper discipline Length of time in North America Exchange student
J1 Female Psychology 5 years -
J2 Male Economics 6 months Yes
J3 Female Political Science 5 years -
J4 Female Marketing 6 months Yes
J5 Female Religious Studies 6 months Yes
J6 Female Political Science 11 months Yes
J7 Female Political Science 7 years Yes
J8 Female Botany 1 year -
Canadian C1 Female English literature - -
C2 Male History - -
C3 Female History - -
C4 Male History - -
C5 Female Political Science - -
C6 Female Linguistics - -
C7 Female History - -
C8 Male History - -

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