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Grey Literature: Identifying Grey Literature

Test your knowledge of Grey Literature!

How can I tell if it is Grey Literature?

Grey Literature can sometimes be difficult to identify when using research databases. Often, you can look at the document type to see if it a government report or a dissertation, but identifying other types of grey literature can be tricky.

One common issue is to have citations or abstracts for spoken or poster presentations to show up in your list of results even when "Peer-Reviewed Journals" is selected. Upon first look, these can look like research articles, but are often not attached to a digital object.

This can be extremely frustrating when you are searching for peer-reviewed journal articles on a particular topic and you locate a resource which you think could be ideal, only to find that it doesn't exist in any accessible sense.

Here are some methods to identify grey literature records in the databases

Journal title: Poster session and Presentation abstracts are frequently posted in "special issues" of academic journals. These special issues often titled "conference proceedings."

Article title: Also look out for a specific date or date range mentioned in the title, which suggests a presentation at a conference rather than an article.

What to do when you've found grey literature

   If you locate grey literature and it is relevant to your topic, you might wish to include it in your resources, depending on the assignment. If you are putting together a literature review, using grey literature is very much recommended.

However, sometimes you may locate a citation or abstract for a resource that looks like it could be very helpful, but it doesn't have anything attached to it. While this can be frustrating, there are ways to pursue similar resources.

  1. Look to see if the authors published anything similar - If you're unable to locate a paper or poster attached to the citation, you might want to look up the author's name(s) in a more traditional search engine, such as databases or OneSearch. Since Oral and poster sessions often result in published work, you may find that the author has continued their research or altered their research slightly for publication. (note: Remember that the publication process for academic literature takes some time. If the grey literature is less than a year old, it is unlikely to have been expanded to a complete research article in that time)
  2. Reach out to the author(s) directly - In the case of most grey literature, author contact information (or institutional affiliation) is listed. In many cases, these authors are happy to discuss their findings or even share data sets. 
  3. Keep track of keywords and phrases - There is a chance that even if the author of grey literature never published their findings in a traditional sense, someone else has conducted similar research. As always, keeping track of specific keywords or phrases used with your topic can be critical for finding similar research.