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Grey Literature

What it is, its value, and how and where to search for it

What is grey literature?

As quoted by the Grey Literature International Steering Committee (GLISC) (see page 1), grey literature has been defined as:
Information produced on all levels of government, academics, business and industry in electronic and print formats not controlled by commercial publishing i.e. where publishing is not the primary activity of the producing body.

In other words, the work is not tied to or controlled by commercial publishers (like the companies that publish your textbooks), who seek profit on the research or information produced.  Grey literature is self-published and typically comes from:

  • Government agencies
  • Research institutes
  • Organizations or companies
  • Associations

The value of grey literature

  1. Grey literature is an important source of information due to the uniqueness of the content that gets published.  Because commercial publishers are looking to make a profit on the materials they publish, they often overlook niche research areas that serve smaller populations.  Grey literature is one way to search for information in emerging or less popular research areas.
  2. Grey literature can sometimes be more current that commercially published information.  It does not go through the potentially time-consuming peer-review process undertaken by commercial publishers, and therefore has a quicker turnaround time for dissemination.
  3. The importance of grey literature can vary between disciplines.


  1. Evaluate what you find - Because grey literature does not go through the same peer review process of something published commercially, caution needs to be taken when selecting grey literature to use.  As with any resource, even formally published ones, bias or inaccuracies can exist and it is important to have some understanding of the author/originator of the information and their stance on a particular topic or issue. 
  2. Issues around longevity - Resources openly available on the Internet can sometimes vanish, particularly if they are older items or if the website is not being kept up.  If you find something useful, grab it!  Typically things found in a repository or database have more longevity, but for one-off items posted on a website, that is not always the case.

General Gray Literature Resources

Creative Commons License
This work by The University of Victoria Libraries is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License unless otherwise indicated when material has been used from other sources.