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Finding Grey Literature: Start

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Quality may also be an issue because it is often not peer reviewed or edited.

Grey literature includes...

Grey literature includes a wide variety of different materials. 

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.

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  •   It is the only source of information- e.g. research data, letters and unpublished studies
  •   It provides first hand accounts of events - e.g. research data, diaries
  •   It overcomes or minimises reporting or publication biases; grey literature is more likely to include negative results - e.g. clinical trials
  •   It provides new information not yet published in traditional sources - e.g. conference papers
  •   It provides more local information - e.g. government reports, local collections
  •   It is a source of raw data such as data sets and statistics

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