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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.  While the health and medical fields tend to favour traditional publication methods through well-known scholarly publishers, other disciplines (like social sciences) often make more use of the grey literature route.

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