Grey literature - Tip sheet
What is grey literature?
Grey literature describes material that is produced in print and electronic formats but is not controlled by commercial publishers and as a result, is usually not discoverable in databases. Grey literature is produced by all levels of government, academia and industry.
Some examples of grey literature include:
- trade publications, conference papers and conference proceedings
- fact sheets, pamphlets, bulletins and newsletters
- government documents, government reports, parliamentary proceedings, bills, issues papers, discussion papers and policy papers
- practice guidelines and standards
- interviews, surveys and speeches
- informal communications e.g. emails and memorandums
- online materials e.g. websites, webinars, podcasts, videos, Tweets, blogs
- market reports, annual reports and working papers.
Why is grey literature useful?
Grey literature is useful for a number of reasons:
- grey literature is often the most up-to-date source of information about a topic, as traditional publication and peer-review can be a slow process
- grey literature often contains information not available in traditionally published materials
- grey literature may be the best source of information where there is little published material on a topic
- grey literature can provide a broad view of a topic (e.g. government reports and fact sheets) or an in-depth view (e.g. theses and conference papers) depending on the type of grey literature being explored
- a great deal of grey literature is readily accessible online.
What are the limitations of grey literature?
- grey literature can be difficult to find depending on the publishing organisation/department
- it can be difficult to find archived versions of older grey literature documents, this is particularly problematic after changes of government or corporate restructures [note: consider using internet archives such as The Way Back Machine or Trove's Pandora Archive in these cases]
- the volume of information found can be overwhelming
- quality of grey literature can vary greatly
- it is sometimes the case that grey literature is not publicly available and will need to be requested from organisations or government bodies.
Where can I find grey literature?
Grey literature can be found in a variety of places, depending on the type of materials required. Theses are generally available via institutional repositories, such as QUT ePrints. Many theses available via institutional repositories are indexed by Google Scholar and can be found when conducting searches. The Networked Digital Library of Theses and Dissertations will locate theses across many international jurisdictions.
Trove is a useful resource for finding a variety of Australian grey literature (including theses), Australian Policy Online is useful for finding Australian policy research and WorldCat is effective for finding international grey literature. Google can also yield results: search for keywords followed by filetype:pdf as many (but not all) grey literature materials are hosted in pdf format. Using the 'site or domain' field via Google Advanced Search to limit search results to relevant government or organisational domains is also effective.
Watch How to Use Google Advanced Search (YouTube video, 4min) demonstrate some useful techniques for finding grey literature using Google Advanced Search. Additional tips for finding grey literature can be found in Finding Grey Literature (YouTube video, 4min).
NOTE: Liaison Librarians can advise on discipline-specific strategies for finding relevant grey literature.
How should I critically evaluate grey literature?
The 'Authority, Accuracy, Coverage, Objectivity, Date, Significance' (AACODS) checklist is a useful framework to use when evaluating grey literature. The AACODS checklist is not discipline-specific and is quite general in its approach, but it does provide a useful set of measures against which grey literature can be evaluated.
For further assistance contact your Liaison Librarian.
Mahood, Q., Van Eerd, D. and Irvin, E. (2014), Searching for grey literature for systematic reviews: challenges and benefits, Research Synthesis Methods, 5, pages 221- 234, https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/jrsm.1106