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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Grey Literature

Learn what Grey Literature is, how to evaluate it, what formats it takes, how to find it, and how to incorporate it in your research.

We now know that Grey Literature is the opposite of Scholarly, Peer-Reviewed literature. Unlike Peer-Reviewed literature, Grey Literature is not reviewed by experts before being published, which means readers have to do all the work of evaluating the literature themselves. Why would someone use Grey Literature when it is generally less reliable and requires more evaluation on the users' part than Peer-Reviewed Literature? Among other reasons, Grey Literature is often...

  • Faster
  • Cheaper to Access
  • More Accessible Language and Writing Style
  • More Diverse Viewpoints
  • More plentiful, especially on niche subjects

..than scholarly, peer-reviewed research. Keep in mind that no matter the reason for using grey literature, you will need to properly evaluate it.

The peer-review process takes time to complete, sometimes up to 3 months. This means that scholarly articles published today can already be weeks or months out of date. If researchers need very current information, they will need to look to grey literature sources.
Scholarly Journals are not like magazine subscriptions in terms of pricing. One scholarly journal subscription can cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars to $7,000. This means that the scholarly and peer-reviewed information published in these journals is inaccessible to many people. Even people affiliated with universities may not be able to access them as many universities around the cannot afford access to many journals as their prices keep increasing. Have you ever run into a paywall when trying to access an article? In many cases, people will turn to freely available Grey Literature rather than pay a huge fee to get around a paywall.
As a student, have you ever read a scholarly article and felt very lost and confused? Academic writing is known for being overly complicated and confusing for readers to keep up with. While there are many examples of Grey Literature being equally confusing (Legal Documents and Government technical reports for example), there are many types of Grey literature that are easier to understand and read than scholarly articles. Newspaper articles, for example, are usually much easier to understand than an academic article on the same topic.

Universities and other academic institutions have a diversity problem and that is reflected in the scholarly and peer-reviewed literature that is published. Historically, scholarly literature was made by white, western-centric, affluent men because that is who could access the academic institutions that produce such literature. Diversity efforts have changed this to some extent, but it is a major problem. This means that scholarly literature is often missing important viewpoints and information that could be extremely valuable for building knowledge. Grey literature does not require authors to have made it past all the barriers and hurdles of academia so it is often more diverse than scholarly literature.

Because grey literature isn't held to the same reviewing standards and is generally easier to produce, there is a lot more existing grey literature than there is scholarly peer-reviewed literature. At any given time, scholarly literature makes up only a small percent of available information, while grey literature makes up the vast majority of available information. Keep in mind that the principal of "quantity over quality" is often at play here. The information isn't necessarily verified, and there are many examples of different items of grey literature reporting the same exact information with little added value. Think of all the literature different organizations put out during COVID-19. How many of those pieces of literature gave identical information with very little variance? Did these multiple pieces of literature help your understanding of the virus after reading the first few?
Anyone who specializes in a certain academic field knows how niche academia can get in their literature. However, there is a limit to how niche academia can get in some areas and there are several types of information that academia typically does not cover. For example, local water quality data will likely never be published in an academic journal, but is consistently published by local government sources.