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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.

How to search for Grey Literature

Grey literature is produced quickly and by many different organizations, which can be great for finding up-to-date, applicable information. However, this means that finding this literature is harder than finding scholarly works. Scholarly Journals and books are typically cataloged, organized and preserved by professionals, which is what makes them findable by researchers. This cataloging process is part of the reason journals are so expensive. Grey Literature is rarely cataloged, and often cataloged improperly, making it hard to find. The individual organizations that produce grey literature also have different, or absolutely zero processes for preserving or organizing the documents, meaning that the documents essentially get lost or disappear over time. This is especially true of digital documents or documents that belonged to defunct organizations. Furthermore, because grey literature does not conform to traditional metadata standards, it can be very difficult to find a cited grey literature document, even if the citation is correct. On top of that, there isn't a one-stop-shop for grey literature, so researchers often have to go to each individual organization to find their documents.


Tips for Searching for Grey Literature

When researching a topic, you will often come across scholarly works that cite or reference Grey Literature. Finding these documents can help you find more literature about the topic or help you identify organizations that put out this type of information. One of the benefits of citation chasing in this manner is that it shows that the Grey Literature-producing organization has some authority in the topic area, since the scholarly source is using their materials! Citation chasing also helps in finding relevant materials as the citations will be closely tied to the article's topic. 



The article "Global Climate Implications for Homelessness: A Scoping Review" published in the Journal of Urban Health cites a number of unique sources including two studies/reports from the United Nations. While the article itself is an example of White Literature, it references both scholarly and Grey Literature. These specific articles could be useful in and of themselves, but it would also be good to note the organization themselves and remember them as you continue researching.

Directories are lists of individuals or organizations, typically grouped or organized thematically. Directories are extremely helpful in identifying different organizations that may produce Grey Literature in the field of research you are interested in. Each directory is different depending on their coverage, so pick the appropriate directory for your topic. Keep in mind that many directories can become out-dated quickly, so make sure to check for updated or new web address or changes in the organizations' name, missions, programs or goals.  



The Open Think Tank Directory is a good example of a general searchable directory. As you can see below, it is also searchable by region which can help in many areas of Global Studies research.

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The Google Advanced Search differs significantly from the simple default Google Engine Search. There are many different search fields available in this Advanced Search, with one of the most convenient areas for Grey Literature being the site or domain field. If there is a singular site you are looking to complete a search on it can be done here. Similarly, if you want to only look for information on US government websites it is possible to complete a search of only ".gov" websites as well. See the picture below for an example.

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Again, Google Advanced Search has many different search fields available in this Advanced Search. Another important area to point out for researching Grey Literature is the file type. You are able to limit search results to only one file format, such as .pdf or .xls, by choosing a specifier on the Advanced Search page. When searching for a specific kind of resource, this can be extremely helpful. It is also nifty when you are just looking to parse down your search a little more! See the picture below for an example.

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Custom Search bars work similarly to a typical Google search, but the results are filter so only results from pre-designated websites show up. This means that the creators of the custom search are able to pick and choose which organizations Google searches for results from. Many are limited by government bodies, Think tanks, NGOs and other organization types. 


The International and Area Studies Library maintains the Global Studies Custom Search Bar, which can be extremely helpful in finding Grey Literature.  Try it out below! 


Tools for Searching for Grey Literature

The Global Studies Custom Search Bar