Call for Master Thesis: Online Search Practices of Knowledge Workers

Every innovation starts with insights. Today these insights are to a large extent inspired by the information and knowledge accessible online. Whenever information needs arise, users employ search strategies to satisfy these needs in order to reduce their cognitive dissonance. The result of the search process is not only the search result itself, but also an insight into the investigated topic and its different facets surrounding the topic. This way knowledge workers learn throughout the process; even more so when information needs are pronounced and the value of new insights is high. Throughout this process the knowledge worker absorbs new information and processes it through either accommodation (i.e. the modification or change of existing knowledge structures) or assimilation (i.e. the addition of information to existing knowledge structures) (Piaget, 1952). The knowledge workers search processes greatly differ in the concrete strategies, methods and tools employed.

As there is not standard process of how to engage in in-depth web search, we would like to collect and classify best practice search strategies of knowledge workers. In doing so, this research helps understanding the unique strategies of knowledge workers to enhance their productivity, a factor that has been rated the “most important contribution of management […] in the 21st century.” (Drucker, 1999: p. 79).

Your master thesis will contribute to this research endeavour. You will be equipped with a short questionnaire in German language. With this questionnaire you will approach knowledge workers with high information needs in different fields. You will identify at least 50 knowledge workers (experts or upcoming experts). This data collection will be done by up to five master students in parallel. For your thesis you will focus on a specific aspect of the total project. This way you will be able to base you analysis on the total sample to which each of you will contribute 50+ observations. That way a series of individual theses will emerge that each is based on a rich empirical basis.

To apply for this research initiative, please send your CV and short motivation statement with the reference “Online Search Practices of Knowledge Workers” to until August 31st.

Short Research Overview:

Research Question: What are best practices for learning and search outcomes of knowledge workers engaging in in-depth online search?


  • Human information behavior: Search behavior and information  needs
  • Learning Theory


  • Semi-structured interviews (Structured questionnaire with closed and open-ended questions)
  • Sample: Knowledge workers engaging in in-depth search (experts and upcoming experts)


  • Borlund, P. and Dreier, S. (2014). ‘An investigation of the search behaviour associated with Ingwersen’s three types of information needs’. Information Processing & Management, 50 (4), 493–507.
  • Cole, C. (2012). Information need: A theory connecting information search to knowledge formation. Medford, New Jersey: Published on behalf of the American Society for Information Science and Technology by Information Today.
  • Drucker, P. (1999). ‘Knowledge-Worker Productivity: The Biggest Challenge’. California Management Review, 41 (2), 78–94.
  • Piaget, J. (1952). Origins of intelligence in the child. New York: International Universities Press, Inc.
  • Spink, A. and Cole, C. (2006). ‘Human information behavior. Integrating diverse approaches and information use’. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 57.
  • Vakkari, P. (2016). ‘Searching as learning. A systematization based on literature’. Journal of Information Science, 42 (1), 7–18.
  • Zhang, P. and Soergel, D. (2014). ‘Towards a comprehensive model of the cognitive process and mechanisms of individual sensemaking’. Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology, 65 (9), 1733–1756.