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Find, access and use information effectively: a step-by-step guide: Find other sources (grey literature and conference proceedings)

Find, access and use information effectively: a step-by-step guide

Grey literature

What is grey literature?

The term grey literature refers to research that is either unpublished or has been published in non-commercial form. In other words grey literature can be seen as information resources that are not always easily available.

Examples of grey literature include:

  • government reports
  • policy statements and issues papers
  • conference proceedings
  • pre-prints and post-prints of articles
  • theses and dissertations
  • research reports
  • geological and geophysical surveys
  • maps
  • newsletters and bulletins
  • fact sheets

Academics, pressure groups, and private companies are only some of the sources of grey literature.

The importance of grey literature

Much grey literature is of high quality. Grey literature is often the best source of up-to-date research on certain topics, such as rural poverty or the plight of homeless people in Cape Town.

An increasing amount of grey literature is now available on the Web in the form of Adobe Acrobat (PDF) documents. This means that it is relatively easy to find recent examples of grey literature using a simple Google search. For example to find information about homelessness in Sydney, we could simply:

  • Go to Google
  • Enter the search homelessness Cape Town filetype:pdf in the Search box.
  • Click on Search.

Such a simple search can result in dozens or even hundreds of hits.

Evaluating grey literature

The danger of grey literature is that some of the "think tanks" which publish reports and working papers have their own political or social agendas.

It is important to cross-check information from grey literature sources against information derived elsewhere.

Conference proceedings

These can be some of the hardest forms of grey literature to locate. Where papers presented at an academic conference have been published as a book or as a special issue of a journal, these can be readily found in library catalogues.

Far more difficult to locate are unpublished conference papers, or conference proceedings that have yet to be published in proceedings. There are a number of databases which contain details (and occasionally the full-text) of papers from academic conferences.

The All Academic site provides the full-text of papers delivered at academic conferences which used the company's software.

ProQuest has a database Conference Papers Index which includes details of conference papers in the life sciences, environmental sciences and aquatic sciences. The entries in this database include ordering information to obtain abstracts and copies of papers. Individual databases (such as Agricola, APA Full-Text, Econpapers, MEDLINE, ERIC, PsycINFO and Web of Science) index or abstract conference proceedings and individual papers.

Search Google Scholar

Google Scholar provides an easy way to search for scholarly literature across many disciplines and resources.

Google Scholar Search

Institutional repositories

Universities world-wide now create institutional repositories to record the research conducted by academics. These are particularly useful sources of grey literature.

The following resources can be used to find grey literature in institutional repositories:

  • OpenDOAR, an authoritative directory of academic open access repositories.
  • BASE (Bielefeld Academic Search Engine), one of the world's most voluminous search engines especially for academic open access web resources.


This page was copied, with permission, from eSKILLS Plus, an online programme for postgraduate students at the University of New England.