You are here

Grey literature: What it is & how to find it

What is grey literature?

Grey literature is information produced outside of traditional publishing and distribution channels, and can include reports, working papers, newsletters, government documents, speeches, white papers, urban plans, and so on.

This information is often produced by organizations "on the ground" (such as government and inter-governmental agencies, non-governmental organisations, and industry) to store information and report on activities, either for their own use or wider sharing and distribution, and without the delays and restrictions of commercial and academic publishing. For that reason, grey literature can be more current than literature in scholarly journals.

However, because grey literature (usually) does not go through a peer review process, the quality can vary a great deal. Be sure to critically evaluate your source.

For an extensive list of the types of documents that might be considered grey literature, see Document types in grey literature (from GreyNet International).

Where to search for grey literature

To search across agencies and organisations, try the resources below.

Another way of finding grey literature is to try to identify who would be publishing this information. Consider think tanks, government agencies, non-profits, professional associations, research institutes, and other organisations, based on the research you have already done.

Using Google to search for grey literature

Use Google's site limits to search a government or institution's site or top-level domain, for instance: site:gc.ca to search for Canadian federal government information.

For additional advanced searching techniques try:

Search tips for Google and Google Scholar
Our quick overview of basic and more advanced techniques.

Get More Out of Google
From Mashable, tips and tricks with a more visual/ infographic approach.

Google Custom Searches

Type your search terms into these pre-built searches to limit results to specific organisation types. Use Search tips for Google and Google Scholar to create your search strings. 

NGO Search
NGO Search is a Google Custom Search that searches across hundreds non-governmental organization (NGO) websites. NGO Search is a project of the International Documents Taskforce (IDTF) of the American Library Association (ALA). For more information on this project, including a growing list of NGOs included in the search, please see the IDTF wiki.

IGO Search
International governmental organizations (IGOs) are organizations made up of more than one national government—examples include NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) and the WHO (World Heath Organization). The governments are the members. IGO Search is a Google Custom Search Engine (CSE) that searches across IGO websites. It is a project of the International Documents Taskforce (IDTF) of the American Library Association (ALA). For more information on this project, including a growing list of IGOs included in the search, please see the IDTF wiki.

Carleton University's Find Canadian Government Publications on the Web
A Google Custom Search that searches across Canadian government websites with the option to limit to federal, provincial, or municipal information.

Google Scholar

There is some grey literature in Google Scholar — mainly theses and dissertations in institutional repositories. Be sure to access Google Scholar via the Library's website to ensure you see the "Where can I get this?" links that will take you to the full text SFU offers. 

Use Search tips for Google and Google Scholar to create your search strings. 

Other sources

Canadian Electronic Library from desLibris
Contains the full text of public policy documents from Canadian institutes, think-tanks and research groups.

OpenGrey
A search portal for European grey literature. It covers Science, Technology, Biomedical Science, Economics, Social Science and the Humanities.

DataCite
Search this registry to locate datasets, program files, images, and other research material.

CHODARR (Community Health Online Digital Archive & Research Resource)
A virtual library of community-based and government publications related to health and social welfare policy, including grey literature, with emphasis on Vancouver-area resources and organisations.