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Published by at May 2nd, 2023 , Revised On December 8, 2023

What is Grey Literature in Research – Definition & Examples

Definition of Grey Literature 

According to Monash University, “Grey literature is 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.”

What is Grey Literature in Research 

Grey literature refers to information and knowledge resources produced and disseminated outside traditional publishing and distribution channels, such as government reports, conference proceedings, theses, dissertations, working papers, and technical reports. These types of literature are typically not commercially published, widely distributed, and often not peer-reviewed. 

Grey literature can be a valuable source of information for researchers, policymakers, and practitioners, as it often contains up-to-date and specialised information that is not available in mainstream publications. 

However, accessing and assessing the quality of grey literature can also be difficult due to its diverse formats and sources, and the quality of grey literature always remains a cause of concern for the researchers.

What are the Different Types of Grey Literature?

Let’s take a close look at the different types of grey literature. Understanding the various types of grey literature can allow you to make informed decisions as a researcher. 

  1. Government reports: These can include official reports produced by government agencies, departments, or committees.
  2. Conference proceedings: These cover the papers, posters, and presentations given at academic or industry conferences.
  3. Theses and dissertations: These are research papers that students write for their graduate degree programs.
  4. Technical reports: These are reports that researchers or experts produce in a particular field to document their research findings or other technical information.
  5. Working papers: These include preliminary research papers produced by researchers and are often shared with other researchers for feedback or discussion.
  6. Newsletters: These cover publications produced by organisations, associations, or government agencies to provide regular updates on a particular topic.
  7. White papers: These are authoritative reports or guides that provide information and recommendations on a particular topic.
  8. Grey literature databases: These include online databases that collect and organise various types of grey literature, making it easier for researchers to search and access these resources.

Overall, grey literature can provide valuable insights and information that may not be available in traditional academic publications, making it an important resource for researchers in many fields.

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Who Produces Grey Literature: 

Grey literature is produced by various entities, including government agencies, non-profit organisations academic institutions, think tanks, industry associations, and individual researchers or practitioners. 

Grey literature refers to any written or visual material not published in commercial or academic publishing channels, such as books or journals.

Examples of Grey Literature

Examples of grey literature include reports, white papers, theses, conference proceedings, technical documentation, working papers, and more.

Working papersWhite papers
Pre and post-print articlesInformal communications
Census dataVideos
BlogsClinical Trials and practice guidelines
Research ReportsGovernment documents
Theses and dissertationsTechnical reports
NewslettersConference Proceedings

Some Reasons to Use Grey Literature

Grey literature can be a valuable source of information for research for several reasons:

  1. Access to information not available through traditional publishing channels: Grey literature often contains research findings, reports, and data that are not available through traditional publishing channels. This can provide a more comprehensive understanding of a particular research topic.
  2. Up-to-date and timely information: Grey literature is often produced quickly and provides up-to-date and timely information on current research topics, policies, and practices.
  3. Diverse perspectives: Grey literature can come from a wide range of sources, including government agencies, non-profit or organisations and industry associations. This can provide diverse perspectives on a particular research topic.
  4. Complement to traditional research sources: Grey literature can provide a complementary source of information to traditional research sources such as journal articles and books, helping to fill in any gaps in the literature.
  5. Cost-effective: Many grey literature sources are freely available online, making them a cost-effective source of information for researchers.

Overall, incorporating grey literature into research can enhance the scope, depth, and reliability of research findings and provide a more complete picture of a particular research topic.

Some Drawbacks of Grey Literature

Here are some reasons why you shouldn’t over-rely on grey literature because academicians don’t consider it the most authentic source of information. 

How to Find Grey Literature in Research

There are several ways to find grey literature. Some sources of grey literature are:

  1. Search engines: Use search engines such as Google, Bing, or Yahoo to search for reports, working papers, conference proceedings, and other types of grey literature.
  2. Specialized databases: Specialized databases such as OpenGrey, GreyNet, and WorldWideScience provide access to a wide range of grey literature.
  3. Professional associations and organizations: Many professional associations and organizations produce grey literature, such as the American Psychological Association, the National Institutes of Health, and the World Health Organization.
  4. Government agencies: Government agencies at the local, national, and international levels often produce grey literature, such as reports, policy documents, and working papers.
  5. Think tanks and research institutes: Think tanks and research institutes produce grey literature such as reports, policy papers, and white papers.
  6. Dissertation and thesis databases: Dissertations and theses are considered grey literature, and many universities make their dissertation and thesis databases available online.
  7. Conference proceedings: Conference proceedings often contain grey literature in the form of abstracts, presentations, and papers.
  8. Medical: You can find medical-related grey literature in Grey Matters, a great tool for finding grey literature. The tool also contains a checklist that you can use to plan your research. 
  9. Scientific: You can find scientific grey literature at Science.gov and ScienceDirect.com. Another great resource for identifying grey literature is WorldWideScience.Org, where you can find science papers archives on a variety of topics.

When searching for grey literature, it’s important to use various sources and search terms to ensure a comprehensive search.

Frequently Asked Questions

Grey literature refers to a broad spectrum of content that is created outside of conventional publishing and distribution routes and that is frequently underrepresented in indexing databases.

About Owen Ingram

Avatar for Owen IngramIngram is a dissertation specialist. He has a master's degree in data sciences. His research work aims to compare the various types of research methods used among academicians and researchers.