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Finding Grey Literature: Grey literature

This guide provides tools and methods to locate grey literature

What is grey literature?


Grey literature has been defined as:

"Information produced on all levels of government, academics, business and industry in electronic and print formats not controlled by commercial publishing, i.e. where publishing is not the primary activity of the producing body"  
-ICGL Luxembourg definition, 1997-expanded in New York, 2004


Grey literature includes (but is not limited to):

  • theses and dissertations,
  • conference papers,
  • research data,
  • clinical trials,
  • diaries and letters,
  • company records
  • government and NGOs' documents, reports and working papers
  • eprints or pre-prints
  • social media posts
  • ephemera - e.g. brochures, pamphlets
  • patents and IP.

Finding grey literature

Grey literature can be hard to find or irretrievable for a number of reasons because it is:

  • not widely disseminated - e.g. conference proceedings, institutional working papers, theses
  • often not archived 
  • available only in obsolete formats
  • It is part of the Invisible web

Quality may also be an issue because it is often not peer reviewed or edited.

Library databases & catalogues

Library catalogues contain grey literature in the main lending collections as well as in archives, special collections and theses collections.

Many databases also list grey literature, especially theses and conference papers. Check the page for your discipline to see databases containing grey literature.

Search tips

The sites below are union catalogues, which allow you to search the collections of many libraries at once. These are particularly useful for finding theses and conference papers.

Why is it important?

Grey literature is used for many reasons. These may depend on your field of research but some of the key reasons include:

  It introduces alternate viewpoints

  It is the only source of information- e.g. research data, letters

  It provides first hand accounts of events - e.g. research   data, diaries

  It overcomes or minimises reporting or publication biases - e.g. clinical trials

  It provides new information not yet been published in traditional sources - e.g. conference papers

  It provides more local information - e.g. government reports, local collections

Where else to look for grey literature

Below are some key places to look for grey literature across all disciplines.

Also check discipline specific resources using the tabs above.

Web directories
Preprint archives

See your discipline page for more discipline specific archives.

Theses databases
Key organisations in your field
Search Engines
Statistics & data
Patents, standards & IP sources

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