Get the most out of grey literature

Grey literature is the term used to describe information that may be difficult to find, not conventionally published and not easily located using more usual means, such as academic databases and search engines.

GreyNet International defines grey literature as “a field in library and information science that deals with the production, distribution, and access to multiple document types produced on all levels of government, academics, business, and organization in electronic and print formats not controlled by commercial publishing i.e. where publishing is not the primary activity of the producing body.”

The important thing to remember is  for any research to be truly comprehensive, the researcher needs to consider searching more than just conventional sources, i.e. commercial databases and search engines.

The approach to discovering grey literature varies from discipline to discipline. Let’s look at some general examples now so you get the idea.

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation’s (CSIRO) repository. It contains records of more than 80 years of CSIRO research, some of which won’t be discoverable by any other means.

Health researchers recognise that any thorough evidential base must include grey literature. Andrew Lyons-Reid gives an interesting example of grey literature in palliative care in his blog, What is Grey Literature?

The CareSearch team discovered that the conversion rate of Australian palliative care research to publication was less than 20 per cent. To remedy this, the CareSearch team did extensive searching and created The CareSearch Palliative Care Knowledge Network.

Closer to home for FEDUA researchers is this one:

If you’re an historian researching railway heritage in Australia, consider searching the Sydney Trains website for links to repositories or historical rail organisations. Once located,  search their collections.  The Sydney Trains website contains 11 links to such organisations, offering a wealth of information that you wouldn’t find in databases.

An advanced Google search will allow you to customise your search and will offer a different set of search results. To do this, limit your search by file type; limiting your search results to .pdf or .ppt files will often uncover previously undiscovered resources. This can be done in two ways.  In the normal Google search box, you can limit by file type by including the following phrases in your search: file:.pdf or file:.ppt

Although developments in traditional sources like academic databases means more resources are being indexed, there is still a need for researchers like you to consider alternative areas to investigate.

So now that you’re more familiar with grey literature, in future posts we’ll feature more about it – the search is already on for that hidden goldmine that fits what you do just right. Stay tuned.


A special thanks to Liaison Librarian, Fiona Neville, for this post. Many thanks, Fiona!

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