Finding Grey Literature

This is a summary of our Spring 2017 Information Skills Programme: Session 4

What is grey literature?

There are lots of different definitions of grey literature, one of the most commonly used is:

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.

GL’99 Conference Programme. Fourth International Conference on Grey Literature: New Frontiers in Grey Literature. GreyNet, Grey Literature Network Service, Washington DC, USA, 4-5 October 1999.

That’s a very open and vague definition, and depending on how you interpret it could include everything from a government’s statutes, to an email between colleagues, to the TV advert a commercial organisation produces to advertise it’s products.

According to some definitions grey literature includes things like websites, tweets and facebook posts, or emails, meeting minutes and other internal business documents. But this session focused on grey literature in what we might consider a more traditional document format – be that an electronic PDF file or a paper document.

Where to look?


Google is often a good place to start, however, there are a few tricks you can use to make it quicker and easier to get to what you need.

If you put a phrase in quotes, Google will look for that exact phrase rather than the words in your search scattered throughout a document.quotes

You can search for specific file types. PDF is the one I would most commonly use when looking for grey literature, but you might also want to look for Word documents (.doc / .docx) or Powerpoints (.ppt /.pptx).filetype

You can also search by

You might want to try:

  • org /
  • / edu

For presentation slides. Particularly useful for finding conference presentations.

Organisations’ Websites

IUCNGreyLitYou are likely familiar with which other organisations are working in the field you are interested in. Many organisations make their outputs publically and easily available on their websites. Some have very good search functions or allow you to browse by topic or document type.


Try googling the awarding university’s name and the word “theses”. You will usually find a page with information about how to access that university’s theses, a link to any online repository where you will find their theses and information on whether they will digitise their theses for you.

EThOSIf that doesn’t work, or you’re not sure which university awarded the degree, some countries have a central database of theses. In the UK this system is called EThOS and is run by the British Library. You can also order scanned copies via EThOS.


DAB_20160224-1964 (003)Not everything is available online. Mostly, this applies to older works from before the internet age, but there is still grey literature being produced that for one reason or another is not made available online. The Leventis Library has a strong grey literature collection – all of which are on our catalogue –





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