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Gray Literature in Health and Biomedical Sciences: Home

About Gray Literature

"Gray Literature" and "Grey Literature" are interchangeable. This guide will use "Gray" unless the specific resource uses "Grey".

What is Grey Literature?

The Fourth International Conference on Grey Literature (GL '99) in Washington, DC, in October 1999 defined grey literature as follows: "That which is produced on all levels of government, academics, business and industry in print and electronic formats, but which is not controlled by commercial publishers."

In general, grey literature publications are non-conventional, fugitive, and sometimes ephemeral publications. They may include, but are not limited to the following types of materials: reports (pre-prints, preliminary progress and advanced reports, technical reports, statistical reports, memoranda, state-of-the art reports, market research reports, etc.), theses, conference proceedings, technical specifications and standards, non-commercial translations, bibliographies, technical and commercial documentation, and official documents not published commercially (primarily government reports and documents) (Alberani, 1990).

SOURCE:, retrieved April 2013.

Formal Definition of Gray Literature

Gray literature is documentary material in print and electronic formats, such as reports, preprints, internal documents (memoranda, newsletters, market surveys, etc.), theses and dissertations, conference proceedings, technical specifications and standards, trade literature, etc., not readily available through regular market channels because it was never commercially published/listed or was not widely distributed. Such works pose challenges to libraries in identification (indexing is often limited) and acquisition (availability may be uncertain). Absence of editorial control also raises questions of authenticity and reliability. Alternative methods of supply and bibliographic control have evolved in response to the need to preserve and provide access to such material. In the United States, the gray literature of science and technology is indexed in the NTIS database. Theses and dissertations are indexed and abstracted in Dissertation Abstracts International and are available in hard copy via Dissertation Express. Click here to learn more about finding gray literature, or see the article Gray Literature: Resources for Locating Unpublished Research by Brian S. Mathews in the March 2004 issue of C&RL News. Also spelled grey literature. Compare with ephemera and fugitive material. 

SOURCE:   Online Dictionary for Library and Information Science by Joan M. Reitz
Retrieved April 2013 from

Gray Literature Publications

Examples of gray literature

  • Unpublished manuscripts
  • Pre-prints
  • White papers
  • Conference papers
  • Working papers
  • Technical documents
  • Newsletters
  • Government documents

Who publishes gray literature?

  • Organizations & Associations
  • Government Agencies
  • Universities
  • Corporations

Finding Gray Literature

There is no single best approach to searching for Gray Literature, but there are some things to keep in mind:

  • If you are "searching" using keywords, start with specific terms; use broader terms if you are not getting results.
  • If you are "browsing", start broad and drill down to specifics.
  • Many search tools provide limit options such as publication type.
  • Gray literature is often in the .pdf or .doc format.

Consider web sites for agencies, organizations, or advocacy groups related to your topic.
If you are not sure what these might be...

  • Search using keywords and look for .gov or .org URL extensions
  • Consult directories that list organizations or agencies according to discipline or area.

Consider Insitutional Repositories...

  • See list of Open Access repositories under the Organizaitons tab.

Grey Literature Overview