Information Sources: Grey literature
Grey literature can be defined as materials and documents, usually intended for a specialised audience, produced by organisations outside of the traditional commercial or academic publishing and distribution channels. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone is published - and publicised - by the commercial publisher Bloomsbury and is available in bookshops and libraries. The 2017/2018 annual report of Athlone Institute of Technology (AIT) in comparison, won't be available in bookshops or libraries, nor will you see any advertising for it. The Harry Potter books are very popular, AIT annual reports less so. The 2017/2018 annual report of AIT is therefore a good example of grey literature.
In addition to annual reports of AIT and other institutions, there many kinds of information sources that are classed as grey literature, including:
- Conference proceedings & presentations
- Conference papers are original pieces of research or analysis presented at academic & specialist meetings. The contributions are collected together and published as conference proceedings.
- Unpublished theses and dissertations
- Theses and dissertations are documents produced as a requirement of both undergraduate and postgraduate university and college degrees and normally describe an original research project or study, or an extended analysis of a topic.
- Working papers
- Often an author will release a working paper to share ideas about a topic or to ask for comments or feedback before submitting the work to a peer viewed academic journal or a conference. Working papers are sometimes used used to describe technical reports (below)
- Company annual reports
- An annual report is a comprehensive report on a company's activities. These reports usually include financial data, and information about organisational structure, company strategy & initiatives, market conditions and significant business events.
- Technical reports
- Technical reports are produced by researchers and practitioners to describe the progress of, or results of, technical research and development. Many technical reports are prepared for the funders of research projects.
- Government documents
- Governments produce a lot of paperwork. Types of documents produced by government bodies include reports, parliamentary proceedings, policy statements, bills, discussion papers and policy statements.
- A patent is a legal document, which grants the holder the right to prevents others from profiting from their work over a specified time period. A patent might be the only source of information on a new idea or discovery.
Standards are documents that establish specifications and procedures designed to ensure the reliability of materials, products, methods and services and therefore ensure compatibility between products from different suppliers. They are produced by national, international and professional organisations, such as
Advantages and disadvantages
Grey literature is an important information source because its content is quite unique and service niche areas
The Internet has made it much easier to search for and retrieve grey literature, so it's now far more accessible than it ever has been in the past. Grey literature can be very current because it does not follow traditional publishing pathways. On the other hand, most grey literature doesn't go through the peer review process, so there may be issues regarding quality. On the other hand, not having having to undergo peer review means the grey literature is often more up-to-date than scholarly sources. Another thing to watch for is that some organisations e.g political "think tanks" may have their own agendas, producing material that is biased towards - or against - a particular point of view.
How to find grey literature
See the links page for websites to search for grey literature. You can also use Google or another search engine as a lot of grey literature is freely available on the web, though what you're looking for might be difficult to find, without trying the following
The examples above use Google, but other search engines will use similar, if not the same filters