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4.3 Grey literature

Depending on your particular study or research requirements, in addition to using conventional academic sources of information such as peer-reviewed journals, academic books, newspaper archives and data repositories, you may need to make use of grey literature. Grey literature can be made available more quickly than commercial publications (e.g. academic journals), as it does not go through a lengthy formal or commercial publication process and avoids time-consuming peer-review and editing. As such, it can be a useful source of information on current research and policy developments, and may occasionally be the sole source of information for specific types of research questions. The most common examples of grey literature include:

  • theses and dissertations
  • unpublished research papers (e.g. available on institutional repositories)
  • pre-prints (drafts of papers or articles which have not yet been published in a peer-reviewed academic journal)
  • conference proceedings
  • reports from specialist organisations
  • company reports
  • internal policy documents
  • government reports
  • committee working papers
  • social media.

The quality of grey literature can vary, however. Therefore, when working with grey literature, it is important to select sources of information carefully, and to assess the quality of the material, noting in particular any potential for bias in the structure of the work completed, the way in which results are presented and the final outcomes, recommendations or conclusions listed (see Section 6).

The websites of professional organisations can provide access to discussion papers, policy reports and research papers. Standard search engines such as Google can be used to search the web for grey literature; however, a standard Google search is unlikely to find reports and documents from specialist organisations. Specialist search engines can trawl the deep web to find more specific documents (see Section 5.3).