Serendipity and information seeking: an empirical study

Allen Foster (Department of Information Studies, University of Wales, Aberystwyth, UK)
Nigel Ford (Department of Information Studies, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, UK)

Journal of Documentation

ISSN: 0022-0418

Publication date: 1 June 2003


“Serendipity” has both a classical origin in literature and a more modern manifestation where it is found in the descriptions of the problem solving and knowledge acquisition of humanities and science scholars. Studies of information retrieval and information seeking have also discussed the utility of the notion of serendipity. Some have implied that it may be stimulated, or that certain people may “encounter” serendipitous information more than others. All to some extent accept the classical definition of serendipity as a “fortuitous” accident. The analysis presented here is part of a larger study concerning the information‐seeking behaviour of interdisciplinary scholars. This paper considers the nature of serendipity in information‐seeking contexts, and reinterprets the notion of serendipity as a phenomenon arising from both conditions and strategies – as both a purposive and a non‐purposive component of information seeking and related knowledge acquisition.



Foster, A. and Ford, N. (2003), "Serendipity and information seeking: an empirical study", Journal of Documentation, Vol. 59 No. 3, pp. 321-340.

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Copyright © 2003, MCB UP Limited

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