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, policy literature, 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 the websites of governments and organizations, use the resources below.

Another way to find grey literature is to identify organizations that might be publishing this type of information on topics that you're interested in and then to search their websites — paying close attention to website sections with names like "Documents", "Reports", and "Library". Consider 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 only search a government or institution's site or top-level domain, for instance use to limit your search to British Columbia government sites. This technique paired with keywords in Google is a quick way to locate grey literature. Example search: housing affordable

For additional advanced searching techniques see Search tips for Google and Google Scholar, our quick overview of basic and more advanced techniques.

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) and the Government Documents Roundtable (GODORT) of the American Library Association (ALA). This is a spreadsheet of NGOs included in the project

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 that searches across IGO websites. It is a project of the International Documents Taskforce (IDTF) and the Government Documents Roundtable (GODORT) of the American Library Association (ALA). Here is the growing spreadsheet of IGO urls included in the search. 

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

Policy Commons 
This database brings together grey literature -- reports, working papers, policy briefs, data sources, and media -- from NGOS, think tanks, and research centers around the world.  

 By geographic coverage


Canada Commons
Includes some full text public policy documents from Canadian institutes, think-tanks, and research groups.

CHODARR (Community Health Online Digital Archive & Research Resource)
An archived 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. Note: This source is no longer being updated. You can browse the individual collections, or use Google's site search function to search across it. Example search in Google: AIDS 


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

 Statistics and data sources

Statistical resources: Data & statistics information (SFU Library)
Use these resources for processed data drawn from national agencies, intergovernmental organizations, and other official sources of statistics.

Microdata resources: Data & statistics information (SFU Library)
Use microdata when you need to do analysis, or generate visualizations such as tables and maps. 

Further resources and strategies for searching for grey literature

For more about the value of grey literature and further strategies for finding it, you can also search the Library Catalogue for terms such as grey literature methodology.