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Non-traditionally published sources: Grey literature

What is grey literature?

'Grey' or 'gray' literature is produced by organizations whose primary activity is NOT publishing. In other words, grey literature is basically any source that's not traditionally published. The term grey literature was coined to distinguish this type of literature from the so-called 'white' literature: the traditionally published scholarly literature that was historically printed on white paper.

Grey literature is thus not tied to or controlled by established publishers, and is usually published only online.

Who produces grey literature?

Grey literature typically comes from:

  • Universities
  • Government departments or agencies
  • Non-governmental organizations (NGO's) operating worldwide
  • Research institutes and research groups
  • Professional and scholarly associations (promoting a profession/academic field).
  • Think tanks (research institutes providing advice and ideas on specific political or economic problems)
  • Non-profit organizations
  • Committees
  • Businesses and industries

What source types does grey literature include?

Grey literature includes, but is not limited to:

  • Working papers: 'working' versions of scholarly journal articles, often released on dedicated websites so hat other academics can comment on them before they are published.
  • Reports: produced by governments, NGO's, (non profit) organizations, committees, and companies on specific topics or issues. 
  • Research reports: documents that describe the history of a research study from start to finish.
  • Conference papers: scholarly papers presented at a conference (those that are not traditionally published in book form or in a journal). Recent conference papers are valuable because they contain current research. 
  • Annual reports: comprehensive reports on a company's or organization's activities throughout the preceding year.
  • Factsheets: short documents that provide facts and key points about a topic in a clear, concise, and easy-to-understand way.
  • Podcasts
  • Blogs and social media
  • Items/articles on news websites
  • Policy reports: extensive analyses of some of a nation’s most pressing domestic and foreign policy challenges that bring background and recommendations to policymakers and the general public.
  • Consultancy reports
  • Discussion papers: documents which show and discuss the issues that surround a specific topic. 
  • Theses [scripties].
  • Press releases and newsletters
  • Statistical resources
  • Data sets: collections of data
  • Position papers: a position paper is a short document designed to state an organization's policy, position, or philosophy about a subject.
  • Preprints: a preprint is the author's original manuscript submitted to a journal for publication. Pre-print manuscripts may be very similar to articles from scholarly journals, but keep in mind that these articles have not been peer reviewed yet.
  • Postprints: a postprint is an article which has been peer reviewed, and has been revised accordingly, but which has not yet been copy-edited, paginated and fully formatted for publication.
  • White papers: detailed and authoritative reports that present an issue or problem to help the reader understand the issue, and directs the reader towards making a specific decision. 

What about Wikipedia?

Wikipedia can serve as a convenient starting point for finding information on a new topic. Watch this short video that explains the advantages and disadvantages of Wikipedia, and how you can best make use of it [sound not required].

Source: Newcastle University Library.

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