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Grey Literature

Grey literature (sometimes called "fugitive" literature) is material which is not formally or commercially published.

It is produced by government departments or agencies, international agencies, local authorities, academic institutions, professional or scholarly associations, think tanks, charities, non-profit organisations, companies and other organisations.


What is Grey Literature?

Grey literature (sometimes called "fugitive" literature) is material which is not formally or commercially published.

It is produced by government departments or agencies, international agencies, local authorities, academic institutions, professional or scholarly associations, think tanks, charities, non-profit organisations, companies and other organisations.

It includes, but is not limited to, the following sorts of materials:

  • Reports
  • Working papers
  • Policy documents, guidelines
  • Discussion papers, briefings
  • Booklets, pamphlets, fact sheets
  • Conference, symposium or workshop papers or posters
  • Theses and dissertations
  • Information on clinical trials
  • Technical notes
  • Standards

Grey literature can be hard to trace; details are not usually included in bibliographic databases (with some exceptions). However, the online resources detailed in this guide make it easier to locate than at any time in the past.

Why Search for Grey Literature?

Grey literature can be very useful:

  • Very recent information, or research, may not yet have been formally published in a journal article or book - but might be available in a working paper or conference paper etc.
  • In relation to health information, a search for grey literature mitigates against "publication bias". Results of studies showing the positive effects of a drug or treatment are far more likely to be published in journals than those showing no or negative effects; a search for grey literature will ensure all relevant results, whether positive or negative, are located and can be evaluated.
  • Reports from professional bodies (whose focus is on specific practice areas) may examine particular topics in more depth, or on a more practical level, than mainstream publications.

However, it is also important to remember that:

  • Grey literature is not peer reviewed so may not be of the highest quality; in contrast, the most highly regarded journals are peer reviewed (articles therein are reviewed by experts to ensure they contain accurate information and are of a very high quality prior to their publication).
  • It may not always be possible to judge accurately the appropriateness of the research methods used in unpublished briefings or reports covering scientific or health research.
  • Grey literature can take all sorts of forms and be written in lots of different styles - so care must be taken when extracting complex data and information.
  • Papers and fact sheets from particular bodies with a financial interest in a field may not be unbiased.

   Top Tip!

Critical Appraisal

Not sure if you can trust grey literature you have found?

The AACODS checklist contains questions designed to help you assess the Authoritym Accuracy, Coverage, Objectivity, Date and Significance of the material.

   Top Tip!

Systematic Reviews

If you are searching for grey literature as part of a systematic review, don't forget to view our dedicated Guide to Systematic Reviews.


General Resources

OpenGrey

OpenGrey is a multidisciplinary database, covering science, technology, biomedical science, economics, social science and the humanities. OpenGrey combines the resources of major European information and document supply centres who are each responsible for collecting details of grey literature in their respective countries.

Web of Science

As well as details of journal articles, this library databases contains details of conference papers across all subject disciplines.

Zetoc

Access to the British Library's multidisciplinary Electronic Table of Contents service which includes details of conference papers (as well as journal articles).

CORE

CORE’s mission is to "aggregate all open access research outputs from repositories and journals worldwide and make them available to the public".

OAIster (Open Archives Initiative)

OAIster (pronounced Oyster) allows you to Search a union catalogue of millions of records of open access resources, in various formats, from numerous collections worldwide.

Google Scholar

A search of Google Scholar may find details of conference papers, reports, working papers, theses and dissertations (as well as journal articles).

Microsoft Academic

A free search engine for academic publications and literature.

Google

Search Google for details of relevant professional bodies, charities and interest groups in your subject area - their websites may contain useful publications. It can be helpful to perform a keyword search using the Advanced Search and to narrow your results by filetype to PDF - reports, policy documents etc. are usually produced in this format.

Remember that Google is not the only search engine - why not try DuckDuckGo or Dogpile.

   Top Tip!

Open Access Journals

You will probably already have accessed the relevant library databases for your subject area containing millions of journal articles.

Do not forget that many Open Access Journals are available free in a huge range of subjects. You may find it helpful to search for articles on the DOAJ (Directory of Open Access Journals).

   Top Tip!

Need to find statistics?

Try searching the websites of the Office for National Statistics the "largest independent producer of official statistics and the recognised national statistical institute of the UK" or Statistics.Gov.Scotland for a range of statistics on numerous topics.


Theses, Dissertations, Working Papers and Reports from Academic Institutions

OpenDOAR

OpenDOAR is an authoritative directory of academic open access repositories. In most cases you can access the free full-text of theses, working papers, reports and some open access journal articles from universities around the globe.

BASE (Bielefeld Academic Search Engine)

Operated by Bielefeld University Library in Germany, BASE is "one of the world's most voluminous search engines especially for academic web resources" . It provides links to more than 100 million documents from more than 5,000 sources. You can access the free full text of about 60% of the indexed documents.

EThOS

Provided by the British Library, EThOS contains details of over 450,000 PhD theses with links to free full-text where available.

Networked Digital Library of Theses and Dissertations (NDLTD)

NDLTD is an international organization "dedicated to promoting the adoption, creation, use, dissemination, and preservation of electronic theses and dissertations (ETDs)". Use the Global ETD search to search over 4,750,000 electronic theses and dissertations contained in the NDLTD archive.

Open Access Theses and Dissertations (OATD)

Contains details of over 3.5 million (mostly) graduate level electronic theses and dissertations (ETDs) with links to full-text.

OpenAIR @ RGU

Robert Gordon University's own digital repository contains PhD theses, research publications and related content produced by staff and graduate students.

OpenAIRE

The goal is to make as much European funded research output as possible available to all, via the OpenAIRE portal.

   Top Tip!

Referencing

Instructions on referencing theses and dissertations are available in our RGU Harvard and RGU Vancouver guides.

Most working papers and reports from academic organisations are available as PDFs and can be referenced like paper books.

If a working paper or report is just available as a webpage follow our styles for referencing webpages.

Use the organisation as the publisher and the town or city where its headquarters are based as the place of publication.


Health: General

TRIP

Trip (Turning Research Into Practice) is a "clinical search engine designed to allow users to quickly and easily find and use high-quality research evidence to support their practice and/or care". Search by keyword or using the PICO format. Results can be narrowed by type of material (guidelines, trials, patient information leaflets, blogs etc.).

National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE)

As well as providing clinical guidelines, NICE also provides medicines practice guidelines, Interventional procedures guidance, Medical technologies guidance, quality standards, evidence summaries, and the "local practice collection" containing case studies of how NICE guidance and standards have been used to improve the quality of health and care. See also the NICE Evidence Search.

Mednar

Mednar is a free medically-focused deep web search engine.

WHO IRIS

The World Health Organization Institutional Repository for Information Sharing provides a search interface for online access to WHO publications.

Grey Literature Report

Produced by the The New York Academy of Medicine between 1999 - 2016, this publication contains details (and links to free full-text where available) for grey literature publications in health services research and selected urban health topics.

Scottish Governmment: Health and Social Care

Information, policy documents and reports from the Scottish Government.

ISD Scotland

The Information Services Division (ISD) is a division of National Services Scotland, part of NHS Scotland. ISD provides "health information, health intelligence, statistical services and advice that support the NHS in progressing quality improvement in health and care and facilitates robust planning and decision making".

Department of Health (England) and associated agencies

The Department of Health in England works with 28 agencies and public bodies (including NHS England and NHS Digital) all of which produce an array of documentation.

CADTH

Created in 1989 by Canada’s federal, provincial, and territorial governments, CADTH is an independent, not-for-profit organization providing objective evidence to help health care decision-makers make informed decisions about the optimal use of health technologies, including drugs, diagnostic tests, medical and surgical devices and procedures.

   Top Tip!

Systematic Reviews

If you are searching for grey literature as part of a systematic review, don't forget to view our dedicated Guide to Systematic Reviews.


Health: Trials

Gateways:

The Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL), included in the Cochrane Library, and the Trip (Turning Research Into Practice) database may already be familiar to you as sources of information on trials from the relevant lists of subject databases.

International Clinical Trials Registry Platform (ICTRP) (from the World Health Organization)

The ICTRP Search Portal aims to provide a single point of access to information about ongoing and completed clinical trials.

OpenTrials (beta)

OpenTrials is being developed as a "collaborative and open linked database for all available structured data and documents on all clinical trials, threaded together by individual trial". The project is directed by Dr. Ben Goldacre, an internationally known leader on clinical transparency.

Be Part of Research

Run by the National Institute for Health Research on behalf of NHS England, NHS Wales, NHS Scotland and Health and Social Care in Northern Ireland (HSC) this gateway contains details of clinical trials. It aims to provide members of the public interested in participating in trials with all relevant information and to link them to researchers.

ClinicalTrials.Gov

ClinicalTrials.gov provides access to information on clinical studies on a wide range of diseases and conditions. The Web site is maintained by the US National Library of Medicine (NLM) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

ISRCTN registry (from BioMed Central)

The registry "accepts all clinical research studies (whether proposed, ongoing or completed), providing content validation and curation and the unique identification number necessary for publication". All study records in the database are freely accessible and searchable.

EU Clinical Trials Register

Information on "interventional clinical trials on medicines conducted in the European Union (EU), or the European Economic Area (EEA) which started after 1 May 2004".

CenterWatch

Clinical trials information for patients and professionals. Also includes access to US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) drug information.

Drug companies:

Many drug companies provide access to details of trials on their websites. See for example:

GSK Clinical Study Register

Pfizer Clinical Trials

AstraZeneca Clinical Trials

Sanofi Clinical Trials and Results

Novartis Clinical Trials

   Top Tip!

Systematic Reviews

If you are searching for grey literature as part of a systematic review, don't forget to view our dedicated Guide to Systematic Reviews.

   Top Tip!

Referencing trials

Most trials can be referenced as webpages following the styles for RGU Harvard or RGU Vancouver.

If you need any help on referencing a particular trial please feel free to contact us.


Social Work and Social Sciences

Social Care Online

Produced by the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE), and updated on a daily basis, the UK's "largest online database of information on all aspects of social work and social care" includes links to practice and guidance, research briefings, reports from a variety of bodies including government agencies, local authorities and professional bodies.

Scottish Governmment: Health and Social Care

Information, policy documents and reports from the Scottish Government.

Scottish Government: Statistics

Browse statistics on children and young people, health and community care, crime and justice, housing, social and welfare issues and Scottish neighbourhoods.

British Association of Social Workers: Resources

Search for publications, briefings and some media content by keyword, or explore issues.

Institute for Research and Innovation in Social Services (Iriss)

Iriss is a "charitable company that promotes positive outcomes for the people who use Scotland's social services, by enhancing the capacity and capability of the social services workforce, to access and make use of knowledge and research for service innovation and improvement". The Resources section includes reports, insights (evidence summaries), videos and case studies.

   Top Tip!

Critical Appraisal

Not sure if you can trust grey literature you have found?

The AACODS checklist contains questions designed to help you assess the Authoritym Accuracy, Coverage, Objectivity, Date and Significance of the material.

   Top Tip!

Systematic Reviews

If you are searching for grey literature as part of a systematic review, don't forget to view our dedicated Guide to Systematic Reviews.


Business and Law

Business:

SSRN

SSRN´s eLibrary provides over 700,000 research papers from over 300,000 researchers across 30 disciplines including finance, economics, management and corporate governance.

IDEAS

The largest free bibliographic economics database. Includes details of over 2,000,000 working papers, articles and book chapters most of which are available for free download.

Scottish Government: Business, Industry & Energy

Policy documents and publications from the Scottish Government. See also statistics.

World Trade Organization

Access documents and legal texts via the relevant links.

Open Knowledge Repository (World Bank)

Reports, books and working papers from the World Bank.

The UK in a Changing Europe

Research papers and analysis on Brexit curated by Kings College London.

AnnualReports.co.uk

Access to over 50,000 annual reports from companies around the world.

Law:

JURIST

Jurist is a web-based global legal news and research service based at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. Choose Commentary to find opinions on the latest legal matters from academics and law professionals.

Legal Scholarship Network: SSRN

Search across the whole of the SSRN, browse the Legal Research Network Research Paper Series or use the Advanced search to limit your search to the Legal Scholarship Network (select Law under Networks) to find papers from a range of academic institutions.

   Top Tip!

ABS dissertations

Fourth year undergraduate students and postgraduate students in Aberdeen Business School can view selected examples of previous ABS dissertations by logging on to the Dissertations module on CampusMoodle.

The dissertations module is maintained by ABS. Choose your course to see examples of previously submitted dissertations. If there are no examples for your course please contact your lecturer.

   Top Tip!

Referencing

Instructions on referencing theses and dissertations are available in our RGU Harvard and RGU Vancouver guides.

Most working papers and reports from academic organisations are available as PDFs and can be referenced like paper books.

If a working paper or report is just available as a webpage follow our styles for referencing webpages.

Use the organisation as the publisher and the town or city where its headquarters are based as the place of publication.


Scientific, Computing & Technical Resources

General science:

WorldWideScience.org

A global science gateway, comprised of national and international scientific databases and portals, allowing a simultaneous search over 100 databases from 70 countries. Link to the host gateway of a particular result for more detailed information and, in many cases, free full text documents.

National Technical Reports Library (NTRL)

Maintained by the US Department of Commerce's National Technical Information Service (NTIS), the NTRL provides access to "the world’s most comprehensive collection of U.S.-sponsored research".

Science.gov

Gateway to "more than 200 million pages" of information from US Federal science agencies including research and development results.

ChemSpider

ChemSpider is a free chemical structure database owned by the Royal Society of Chemistry. It provides access to over 58 million structures, properties, and associated information., integrating and linking compounds from approximately 500 data sources.

Computing and information science:

The databases ACM Digital Library, IEEE Xplore and Compendex may already be familiar to you as sources of information on conference papers and proceedings from the relevant lists of subject databases.

arXiv.org

Owned and operated by Cornell University this resource provides free access to 1,261,533 e-prints in computer science, mathematics, physics, quantitative biology, quantitative finance and statistics.

CiteSeerx

CiteSeerx is an evolving scientific literature digital library and search engine that currently focuses primarily on the literature in computer and information science.

Microsoft: Research

Search for papers and other content by Microsoft staff.

Engineering and technical resources:

IEEE Xplore, Compendex and One Petro on the lists of subject databases contain details of conference proceedings in mechanical, electrical and offshore engineering.

OSTI.GOV

OSTI.GOV includes technical reports, bibliographic citations, journal articles, conference papers, books, patents and patent applications, multimedia, software, and data information from research sponsored or funded by the US Department of Energy.

Espacenet patent search

Espacenet offers free access to information about inventions and technical developments from the 19th century right up to today. It contains data on more than 95 million patent documents from around the world.

United States Patents & Trademark Office

Search for full-text patents and associated images.

Google Patents

Google Patents "includes over 87 million patent publications from 17 patent offices around the world, as well as many more technical documents and books indexed in Google Scholar and Google Books".

   Top Tip!

Open Access Journals

You will probably already have accessed the relevant library databases for your subject area containing millions of journal articles.

Do not forget that many Open Access Journals are available free in a huge range of subjects. You may find it helpful to search for articles on the DOAJ (Directory of Open Access Journals).

   Top Tip!

Critical Appraisal

Not sure if you can trust grey literature you have found?

The AACODS checklist contains questions designed to help you assess the Authoritym Accuracy, Coverage, Objectivity, Date and Significance of the material.


Managing Your References

RefWorks guidance:

RefWorks is a bibliographic management tool. It allows you to store, manage and organise your references.

Detailed advice on all aspects of RefWorks is available in our extensive How to use RefWorks guide and additional RefWorks: Importing from Databases: Procedures guide.

RefWorks classes and drop-ins:

If you are new to RefWorks why not sign up for one of our RefWorks for Beginners classes.

If you need a quick refresher, or have a question, why not come along to a library drop-in.

Details of all classes and drop-ins are available in our Calendar.

   Need any help?

We hope you find this guide helpful. If you have any questions or comments please feel free to contact us or come along to one of our drop-in sessions.