Grey literature

Learning objectives

At the end of this module, you will be able to:

  • explain the concept and importance of grey literature.
  • find grey literature in libraries within Australia and overseas.

What is grey literature?

The term grey literature refers to research that is either unpublished or has been published in non-commercial form. Examples of grey literature include:

  • government reports.
  • policy statements and issues papers.
  • conference proceedings.
  • pre-prints and post-prints of articles.
  • theses and dissertations.
  • research reports.
  • geological and geophysical surveys.
  • maps.
  • newsletters and bulletins.
  • fact sheets.

Academics, pressure groups, and private companies are only some of the sources of grey literature.

The importance of grey literature

Much grey literature is of high quality. Grey literature is often the best source of up-to-date research on certain topics, such as rural poverty or the plight of homeless people in Sydney.

An increasing amount of grey literature is now available on the Web in the form of Adobe Acrobat (PDF) documents. This means that it is relatively easy to find recent examples of grey literature using a simple Google search. For example to find information about homelessness in Sydney, we could simply:

  • Go to Google
  • Enter the search homelessness Sydney filetype:pdf in the Search box.
  • Click on Search.

Such a simple search can result in dozens or even hundreds of hits.

Institutional repositories

Universities world-wide now create institutional repositories to record the research conducted by academics. These are particularly useful sources of grey literature. One place to begin is OpenDOAR. Another resource for finding grey literature is BASE (Bielefeld Academic Search Engine).

Web sites that index and collect grey literature are also growing in number. For European grey literature, there is OpenGrey, which holds references to over 700,000 pieces of grey literature.

Australian sources

The main sources of grey literature in Australia include the following:

Links to other Open Access repositories in Australia are available online.

Another source of grey literature is Trove, which includes references and full-text links.

Older grey literature

Large libraries often collect grey literature in paper form. Examples are the State Library of NSW or the Australian National Library. You can usually find this material by searching the institution's online catalogue. It is often possible to arrange loans or to purchase copies of such material through document delivery. The UNE University Library also collects grey literature as part of its general collection and its special collections.


WorldCat, which includes the holdings of over 20,000 libraries world-wide (more than 1.5 billion items) is another source of grey literature.

Costs of grey literature

Most grey literature is free. However, some sources of grey literature, such as market research firms, charge for access to their material.

Where there is a charge, don't forget to check first in a source like the Libraries Australia catalogue. You might find that a copy is available in another academic library, and is therefore available for loan.

Evaluating grey literature

The danger of grey literature is that some of the "think tanks" which publish reports and working papers have their own political or social agendas.

In a few notorious cases, organisations have been set up for public relations reasons to promote bogus research.

It is important to cross-check information from grey literature sources against information derived elsewhere.

Conference proceedings

These can be some of the hardest forms of grey literature to locate. Where papers presented at an academic conference have been published as a book or as a special issue of a journal, these can be readily found in library catalogues.

Far more difficult to locate are unpublished conference papers, or conference proceedings that have yet to be published in proceedings. There are a number of databases which contain details (and occasionally the full-text) of papers from academic conferences.

The All Academic site provides the full-text of papers delivered at academic conferences which used the company's software.

ProQuest has a database Conference Papers Index which includes details of conference papers in the life sciences, environmental sciences and aquatic sciences. The entries in this database include ordering information to obtain abstracts and copies of papers. Individual databases (such as Agricola, APA Full-Text, Econpapers, MEDLINE , ERIC , PsycINFO and Web of Science) index or abstract conference proceedings and individual papers.


This module dealt with the following:

  • the concept of grey literature.
  • the importance of grey literature as a resource for research.
  • how to find Australian grey literature.
  • how to find grey literature in libraries overseas.

Newpapers and magazines