Q. What is grey literature and where can I find it?


The definition of grey literature (or 'gray literature' as it is sometimes spelt) is evolving but it is generally defined as content that is produced and published by non-commercial private or public entities including pressure groups, charities and organisations such as the OECDWorld Bank and WHO.

This literature can be in the form of reports, pamphlets, bulletins, newsletters, trial data, working/technical papers, posters, guidelines, policy documents and other types of government publications. 

Pre-prints, presentations, posters, theses and patents usually found in the research repositories of higher education institutions and on preprint subject servers. They are also considered to be grey literature. Most (current) grey literature is openly available. 

Below are some useful sites for finding grey literature. Some links will take you to databases which UCL Library Services subscribes to. These require that you authenticate with your network username and password. 

  • BASE - Bielefeld Academic Search Engine includes grey literature though is a search engine used mainly to track academic content. More than half the content on BASE is open access as it searches research repositories. 
  • DERA - the IOE's Digital Education Resource Archive has born-digital content published by the UK Government, UK Parliament (including devolved Assemblies), government departments, semi-official organisations (quangos) and think tanks in the areas of education, training, children and families.
  • EconPapers has a list of economics working papers relating to education and the social sciences.
  • The King's Fund Database covers UK health policy documents and has grey literature on topics such as social care, health inequalities, urban health, race and health and mental health.  
  • OECD Library has reports, working papers, summaries and data on 30 member countries. It includes reports, summaries on decisions and recommendations and data in addition to books, book chapters, journal articles.
  • OpenGrey is a search engine that lists open access grey literature in Europe and includes reports, conference proceedings and official publications. 
  • OpenDOAR is the global directory of open access research repositories held at universities. In addition to these repositories generally hold reports, conference papers, presentations and posters as well as pre-print to journal articles and chapters in books. 
  • NICE Evidence Search for Health and Social Care includes clinical guidance, systematic reviews, evidence summaries and information on public health and social care, some of which are unpublished.
  • PsyArXiv is an archive of preprints which are uploaded by researches to facilitate the rapid dissemination of psychological research. It is the creation of the Society for the Improvement of Psychological Science and Centre for Open Science.
  • PsycEXTRA is a database of grey literature relating to psychology, behavioural sciences, and health written for professionals but disseminated outside of peer-reviewed journals. Full-text is available for the majority of records. 
  • PsycTESTS contains unpublished tests, developed by researchers but not commercially available. The tests link to both peer-reviewed literature and technical reports, reviews and theses.
  • SocArXve is a database of open access papers in the social and behavioural sciences.
  • SSRN Research Papers SSRN is owned by the commercial publisher Elsevier. Many of the papers submitted to the SSRN Research papers site are working papers. The papers are organised by subject within the discipline. See, for instance, the Education Research Network.
  • Theses (or dissertations as they are referred to in the US and in Canada) are also considered grey literature. At UCL, open-access theses are accessible from UCL Discovery.

Google and Google Scholar also list grey literature. However, combing through a large number of results can often be time-consuming so only use this as a source only if you know the title of a report, working paper or conference paper.

Grey Literature adds another layer to your research and provides a different perspective thereby making your research more interesting. However, it is important to evaluate grey literature sources carefully by considering the credentials of the entity that produced the information as there may be inherent biases associated with the production of this information.

  • Last Updated Nov 30, 2020
  • Views 30
  • Answered By Nazlin Bhimani

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