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Research skills guide_new

Where to search - beyond the journal literature

What is grey literature?

The term grey literature "is usually understood to mean literature that is not formally published in sources such as books or journal articles" (Lefebvre, Manheimer, & Glanville, 2008). Grey literature may include multiple types of document produced on all levels of government and by academics, businesses and organisations  in electronic and print formats where publishing is not the primary activity of the producing body. (Greynet, 2015.)   (Murdoch University Library - What is grey literature?)

Examples of grey literature include

  • Clinical practice guidelines not published in the journal literature
  • Clinical trials (including unpublished trial data)
  • Conference abstracts, posters, presentations, proceedings
  • Data sets, Statistics
  • Publications and reports | Government (such as white papers, working papers, internal documentation)
  • Publications and reports | Non-government publications and reports (e.g. from NGOs, think tanks, research institutes)
  • Standards
  • Technical documentation and specifications
  • Theses/dissertations

Why is grey literature important?

"A wealth of knowledge and information is produced by organisations, governments and industry ... These publications, data and other materials, known as grey literature, are an essential resource in scholarly communication, research and policy making for business, industry, professional practice and civil society. Grey literature is recognised as a key source of evidence, argument, innovation and understanding in many disciplines, including science, engineering, health, social sciences, education, the arts and humanities". (Pisa Declaration, 2014)

Including grey literature can assist to:

  • Address biased reporting of research results (publication bias) and provide a more balanced view of a topic. A 2007 Cochrane systematic review (Hopewell et al 2007)) found that often results from grey literature significantly affect the outcome of a review, as they often report more negative or inconclusive data than published journal articles. Cross-referencing published studies, for example, with their grey literature counterparts (e.g. study protocols, clinical trials)
  • Broaden the scope of a search by locating published literature that a standard database search may miss
  • Provide a range of more diverse perspectives than mainstream publications offer
  • Provide more current information on, and better coverage of, new and emergent issues

Grey literature for systematic and scoping reviews

For systematic and scoping reviews, a grey literature search may be mandatory or strongly recommended. For instance, Cochrane's MECIR standards recommend authors: "Search relevant grey literature sources such as reports, dissertations, theses, databases and databases of conference abstracts. Searches for studies should be as extensive as possible in order to reduce the risk of publication bias and to identify as much relevant evidence as possible." (University of British Columbia Library's - Grey literature for health sciences)

Grey literature to support public policy and practice​​​​

Developing a grey literature search strategy > Systematic search frameworks + Documentation strategies > Evaluating grey literature

Searching for grey literature - Tips

Developing a grey literature search strategy 

Grey literature can form part of a broader search strategy, or be used as a stand-alone search strategy. A clear well-defined question will help to inform your grey literature search and assist with identifying relevant sources and set up clear parameters for your search.

Grey literature as part of a research strategy (University of Canberra Library)

Finding grey literature - developing a grey literature search plan (James Cook University Library)

♦Searching the grey literature - developing a grey literature search strategy (University of Toronto libraries)

►Identifying Where, What, When and Who(m)

Considerations when developing a grey literature search strategy include:

  • Relevant authorities and/ or stake holders: Identifying who would have likely written about your topic
  • Relevant information sources: Identifying what kinds of literature and/or datasets would help answer your question
  • Relevant geographic areas, populations, and time periods

►Systematic search frameworks | Documentation strategies

♦Grey Matters: A practical tool for searching health-related grey literature [2022 update] (Canadian Drug and Health Technology Agency)

♦How to find and document grey literature (University of Toronto Libraries) - a document template

►Evaluating grey literature 

Searching for grey literature - Tips

Finding grey literature > search tips (Jame Cook University Library)

Finding grey literature > health and medical (Jame Cook University Library)

Finding the hard to finds: Searching for grey literature – 2012 update (Giustini D, Biomedical Librarian, University of British Columbia, Canada)

Searching for grey literature. Systematic Review Fact Sheet No. 5 (2020 Nov) (Flinders University Library)


♦Advanced Google operators for grey literature (University of British Columbia Library)

♦Using Google Scholar for grey literature (University of British Columbia Library)

♦Advanced Google operators for grey literature (University of British Columbia Library)

♦Using Google Scholar for grey literature (University of British Columbia Library)