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Gray Literature  

What is "gray literature" and how can it be found?
Last Updated: May 5, 2014 URL: Print Guide RSS UpdatesEmail Alerts

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Welcome to the Gray Literature Guide.  The purpose of this guide is to provide you with a working definition of "gray literature" and to provide you with some possible sources and search techniques.

The list on this guide is by no means exhaustive.  If you're unable to find what you're looking for, or have any questions, either about gray literature or any other aspect of research, please don't hesitate to contact me!  I'm always happy to help.


What is "gray literature"?

The Twelfth International Conference on Grey Literature in Prague in 2010 arrived at the following definition:

"Grey literature stands for manifold document types produced on all levels of government, academics, business and industry in print and electronic formats that are protected by intellectual property rights, of sufficient quality to be collected and preserved by libraries and institutional repositories, but not controlled by commercial publishers; i.e. where publishing is not the primary activity of the producing body."


While much of it is scholarly in nature, gray literature is not necessarily peer reviewed.  It can include technical reports, fact sheets, newsletters, government documents, and much, much more.  Depending on its nature, gray literature may be difficult to index, and thus difficult to find.


Pros & Cons of Gray Literature

What's Good About Gray Literature?

  • Timeliness.  The peer review process can sometimes take a long time (sometimes a year or more), by which point the data may be out-of-date.
  • Accessibility.  While certain classified information is, of course, restricted, a lot of gray literature is readily available on the Internet.
  • Breadth and Depth.  Not all the information collected may make it into the final report.

Problems With Gray Literature

  • Ephemeral.  Libraries and other repositories do not necessarily collect gray literature, at least not in the same way they collect books, journals, etc.. As a result, it may not be cataloged/index the way other materials are.
  • Audience.  Because gray literature often is not created for publication, it isn't widely promoted, and can therefore be difficult to find.
  • Verification.  Because this material has not yet been through the peer review process, its claims may not have been verified.

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