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Sage white paper explores chance discovery

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Researchers prefer serendipitous discovery – the process of stumbling on interesting and relevant content in the process of research – to having materials recommended by peers or discovering them based on popularity.

That is one conclusion of a two-part white paper by Sage Publishing, which explores common researcher experiences that lead to 'chance' discoveries as well as opportunities for information professionals to support and encourage serendipity in academic research.

'In these papers, we share insights into an often overlooked aspect of the scholarly information journey – serendipitous discovery,' commented Lettie Conrad, executive manager of product analysis at Sage Publishing. 'These reports tell the story of a user-centered research and development project here at Sage, which we believe will facilitate surprising new connections between content and concepts for Sage readers.'

The first paper discusses findings from a global survey of 239 students and faculty combined with user experience research and interviews with publishing experts and technology suppliers, alongside an in-depth review of relevant literature. White paper authors Lettie Conrad and Alan Maloney found that:

68 per cent of faculty members and 70 per cent of undergraduates rated searching library databases as 'very important' when discovering new scholarly information – more important than any other resource;

When it comes to unplanned discovery, in general, researchers prefer simply stumbling on interesting, relevant content within the course of their research as opposed to having materials recommended to them by peers or based on popularity;

78 per cent of undergraduates and 91 per cent of faculty are inclined to click on recommendation links in the course of their online research, especially where links are directly relevant to their task at hand;

Increasingly, publishers are promoting content recommendations as a natural extension of their mission to disseminate scholarly research and knowledge, often with the aid of semantic technologies;

Academic content presents special challenges in discovery and is often more amenable to serendipitous discovery that focuses on the content itself, as well as its conceptual connections to other literature, rather than approaches based on user behaviour; and

Information providers of all kinds are going beyond discovery and focusing on helping users to act more quickly and more meaningfully on the information that they encounter.

Written by Alan Maloney, senior product analyst of taxonomy and semantic technology at Sage Publishing, the second paper details how this new research led to the development of Sage Recommends, a new discovery tool launched in December 2015. Using a content-based approach to connect concepts as well as a new Sage-developed social science thesaurus, Sage Recommends makes connections between the content in a variety of formats, explains the connections, and subtly recommends relevant research material.

Maloney said: 'Sage Recommends is the first output of Sage's efforts over the last couple of years to develop better content intelligence, and to properly map and understand the disciplines in which we publish. This paper sets out how we have used this new knowledge and area of technical competence to make scholarly and educational materials more discoverable, to encourage new directions in research, and to delight our users.'

Martha Sedgwick, executive director of product management at Sage Publishing, added: 'The research reported in this paper has deepened our understanding of our readers and our appreciation for the information needs they bring along when visiting Sage online resources.

'An exciting result of this work has been the Sage Recommends feature, which enables a serendipitous discovery experience across all of Sage content platforms, leading students and faculty to uncover relationships between topics across the social science disciplines and across a range of content types.'