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Serendipity and its study

Allen Edward Foster (Department of Information Studies, Aberystwyth University, Aberystwyth, UK)
David Ellis (Department of Information Studies, Aberystwyth University, Aberystwyth, UK)

Journal of Documentation

ISSN: 0022-0418

Article publication date: 7 October 2014

Issue publication date: 7 October 2014




The purpose of this paper is to explore the concept of serendipity and approaches to its study particularly in relation to information studies.


The origins of the term serendipity are described and its elaboration as an exploratory and explanatory concept in science and the social sciences are outlined. The distinction between serendipity and serendipity pattern is explained and theoretical and empirical studies of both serendipity and the serendipity patterns are explored. The relationship between information encountering is described. Empirical studies of serendipity using Citation Classics and other research approaches in information studies are described.


The discrepancy between occurrences of serendipity in studies using Citation Classics and reported serendipity in philosophy of science, research anecdotes, information encountering and information seeking by inter-disciplinary researchers is highlighted. A comparison between a process model of serendipity and serendipity as an emergent behavioural characteristic are indicates directions for future research.


The paper provides and original synthesis of the theoretical and empirical literature on serendipity with particular reference to work in information studies and an indication of the methodological difficulties involved in its study.



Edward Foster, A. and Ellis, D. (2014), "Serendipity and its study", Journal of Documentation, Vol. 70 No. 6, pp. 1015-1038.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2014, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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