Grey literature is defined as "information produced on all levels of government, academics, business and industry in electronic and print formats not controlled by commercial publishing" ie. where publishing is not the primary activity of the producing body." —ICGL Luxembourg definition, 1997. Expanded in New York, 2004.

Grey literature is an important source of information for research. It provides access to a broad range of information and often contains new ideas. Searching grey literature also offers the potential to balance any tendencies for publication bias found in published literature. It helps introduce alternative perspectives that may not be represented in standard literature.

Examples of grey literature include:

  • technical or research reports
  • committee reports
  • market reports
  • conference papers
  • white papers
  • poster
  • pamphlet
  • conference presentations
  • blogs
  • emails
  • podcasts
  • government documents
  • speeches
  • preprint materials
  • theses and dissertation
  • newsletters
  • clinical trials
  • maps

Who "produces" grey literature?

Why keep current?

  • Good resources that help to monitor changes in a particular field
  • It is a way to locate experts in a field
  • Is rapidly produced and also very current
  • Information comes from industry and other non-academic institutions
  • Covers current state of affairs and historical collections
  • Is generated on various levels from international, state, province to municipality
  • Includes unpublished research

Creating a grey literature strategy

  • Start with highly filtered materials, whether it is a specific database, or a repository.
  • Search for material from less specific resources. Look for specialized databases or resources in your discipline. Use our subject guides for ideas for resources to use.
  • Start from the highest quality or most filtered to the least, such as web browsers

How to find it?

Start with a Summon search (narrow down results by content type)

Search library catalogue (Subject heading Grey Literature)

Explore the following databases:

Use Cited Reference Searching
Scanning reference lists ‘snowballing,’ bibliographies and academic CVs

Locate key authors

  • use academic networking
  • use listservs
  • Blogging (blog searching engine)
  • Podcast searching, specialized directories

Search Repositories

Google

  • Scholar (use "advanced search" options to narrow down your search)
  • Domain searching:
    • allows a search across a website using Google
    • will only work for websites in which Google can send spiders through to capture data
    • is an easy way to search for sites with a government or educational institution extension. The default for a government site is to use .gov and this defaults to a US government site, to make it a Canadian government site add gc.ca, e.g. site:.gc.ca
  • News
  • Alerts (set up alerts that cover your topic or follow specific institution)
  • Custom search engines 

Use Social media (often organizations and individuals make information about their publications available)

Set up RSS feeds

Monitor changes to webpages

Always evaluate information

  • Authority: Is the author or institution credible?
  • Accuracy: Is it supported by documented and authoritative references? Is there a clearly stated methodology? Is it 'in line' with other work on the same topic
  • Coverage: Have limitations been imposed and are these stated clearly?
  • Objectivity: Can bias be detected?
  • Date: Can't find the date? Rule of the thumb is to avoid such material
  • Significance: Is it relevant? Would it enrich or have an impact on your research?

How to cite grey literature?

The citation style and the type of document you are working with dictate how you cite it in your work.

Refer to a guide for the particular style you are using (for example, APA, Chicago, MLA, ...) and follow the format for the type of document you need to cite, for example:

  • technical report
  • web site
  • interview
  • sound recording

For more information follow Citing your sources

 

Content last updated: August 17, 2018