Illustrating conceptual understanding in international business undergraduate writing

Sue Ashley*, Harmen Schaap, Elly de Bruijn

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Conceptual understanding is important for professionals because a broad and deep synthesis of knowledge enables flexible and original thinking in complex problem solving. However, little is known about the appearance of conceptual understanding at the student level. This article therefore investigates the appearance of conceptual understanding in writing, since writing skills are a highly rated competency in both education and professional domains like international business. 44 students in their final year studying international business wrote literature reviews to illustrate how different levels (negligible, weak, moderate, strong and extraordinary) appeared for six components of conceptual understanding (global context, local context, business practices, practice instances, business concepts and business mechanisms). Two results are suggested. The first is that conceptual understanding in students’ writing is broad rather than deep, suggesting fragmented rather than integrated knowledge needed for conceptual understanding. The second is that different patterns of conceptual understanding emerge between and within students’ writing, both in the varying depths of conceptual understanding per component and in the different ways conceptual understanding manifests. Methodological issues and further research are discussed. Implications for education include suggestions for teachers to stimulate knowledge integration for conceptual understanding through the use of rubrics and iterative cycles.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)499-519
Number of pages21
JournalResearch Papers in Education
Issue number4
Early online date24 Jan 2022
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • Students’ conceptual understanding
  • higher professional education
  • international business
  • literature reviews


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