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Grey Literature

What is Grey Literature?

Grey literature is defined as: "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." (From The Fourth International Conference on Grey Literature (GL '99), cited in What is Grey Literature? [Online]. New York: The New York Academy of Medicine. Available: [Accessed 09/03/2016]).

Traditionally, grey literature has a higher profile within Arts and Humanities disciplines. However, there are a number of important sources of information within Science and Engineering which are categorised as grey literature, including:

  • Conference papers
  • Governmental reports and briefings
  • Thesis and dissertations
  • Fact sheets
  • Self-archived material
  • Pre-prints
  • Maps
  • Newsletters
  • Blogs

This is not an exhaustive list – See greysourceindex for a more comprehensive list of grey literature formats. 

Why should I care about Grey Literature?

Grey literature enables researchers to access research findings outside Academia and literature that is made available outside traditional models of publishing. New findings can appear in grey literature long before they are published in peer-reviewed publications.

It is vital to be extra vigilant when dealing with grey literature. Its immediacy does mean that the material will most likely not have been through any rigorous quality-assessment or peer-review process.

Where can I find Grey Literature?

Grey literature can be difficult to find as it is not made available through the traditional publishing channels. Increasingly, material is now made available online, but there is still a wide range of grey literature which is not. In addition, much grey literature, such as governmental reports, is only made available online for a limited period of time.

Some resources, including unpublished conference papers and certain dissertations, may only be possible to access through personal contact with the authors.

Portals/Gateways into Grey Literature

Listed below are a few good services and guides that specialise in grey literature. Do also investigate the guide for  as many Open Access institutional repositories will be useful sources of grey literature.

  • Open Grey: Bibliographic record for over 700.000 European grey literature material. It is possible to either search or browse topics. Some material are on open access.
  • The Grey Literature Report: Resource created by The New York Academy of Medicine. It is updated on a bimonthly basis. Coverage includes material from the areas of health service research and public health topics.


It is important to remember while using pre-prints that they may not have gone through a rigid peer-review process and that the content may differ from what is finally published.

Theses and dissertations

Theses authored by Postgraduate Research Students e.g. PhD Theses

  • Thesis - Useful links: A list of links which is maintained by the QMUL Repository and Research Information Team.

Some highlights from this list include:

  • British Library EThOS‎: Database from British Library which includes bibliographic records to theses from most universities in the UK. If a thesis you are interested in is not currently digitised it is possible to request it through a form on the site.
  • QMRO: QMUL’s very own repository filled with open access research output: theses, conference papers and much more.

Internationally, there are different approaches to sharing knowledge produced by Postgraduate Research Students.

There are two major databases which each allows you search for around 5 million theses/dissertations.

  • “ProQuest Dissertations and Theses Global” subscription database. This database is available from Senate House Library.
  • Global ETD Search: Open access to around 5 million thesis from many universities from various part of the world. Records from Ethos are included, but internationally it does have major gaps.

To ensure a fuller coverage you may need to go to either national databases or regional cooperations. Below are few examples:

USA: There is no free national service for dissemination of theses in the USA equivalent to the British Library’s Ethos service. USA theses are searchable through “ProQuest Dissertations and Theses Global”. The American Doctoral Dissertations 1933 to 1955 gives the ability to search for thesis within this timeframe. However, the database gives no direct full-text access to the actual theses. As most universities have their own repositories of theses it is possible to access specific theses through the international inter-library loans service.

Australia: Most theses are now searchable through Trove, and are often accessible in full-text.

CanadaTheses Canada lists thesis from 1965. Many are available in full-text.

China: It does not appear that China has a national depository for theses. However the National Library of China lists a few useful theses databases. offers an index of French theses since 1985. Over 6.000 theses are available in full-text.

Germany: It is possible to find bibliographical records to German produced theses (German: dissertation) searching the catalogue of Deutschen Nationalbibliothek, choose "hochschulschriften" to access theses specifically. 

India: No centralised open access resource for theses. The Open Access Repository of Indian Theses, Explorations, offers very limited and inconsistent coverage. This index is maintained by the Council of Scientific & Industrial Research (India). Another resource which also offers full-text access is Shodhganga, again on a somewhat inconsistent basis in terms of coverage.

Ireland: There is no nation wide free service to access Irish theses. RIAN is an collaboration where many Irish universities, including Trinity College Dublin, University College Dublin and Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, make their research available. There are full-text links ot the theses listed.

Scandinavia: There are national databases for theses in all of the Scandinavian countries. In Sweden the best populated is which claims to have almost 60.000 bibliographical records with around half of their records linked directly to full-text versions of theses. The national library search service LIBRIS includes bibliographic listings but does not provide direct access. The national service for Norway is NORA which has records of over 8.000 Norwegian theses, the majority linking to full-text versions. Danish National Research Database has bibliographical records to almost 18.000 Danish theses.

South Africa: Use South African National EDT Portal to gain access and search bibliographical records of thesis. The database links to the local repositories where the thesis is available full-text. The earliest material is from late 1950's.

SpainTesis doctorales: TESEO indexes Spanish theses and is maintained by the Spanish Department of Education. No full-text access.

Governmental bodies and departments

There is a wealth of information produced by different governmental organisations world-wide, often available from their websites for defined periods of time. A few useful examples of government websites are listed below:

  • The UK government site which includes lots of publications and reports about the situation in the broader UK society.
  • British Parliament Libraries: Offers free access to publicy funded briefings and other reports on many topics which is used to give Members of Parliament an unbiased view of topics.
  • Gateway which links you up to many resources and departments within Science in the American society. [USA]
  • Gateway for many governmental agencies within the Australian society dealing with Science. [Australia]
  • Website of Department of Science and Technology: Part of the national portal of India, concentrating on Science and Technology. [India]


Networking is, and potentially always will be, the most effective method of obtaining grey literature. An email to the creator of a report or study may work wonders! With reports from organisations, be it governmental or commercial, investigate if they have an internal library as they may also be able to help.

  • ResearchGate: Network for researchers within and outside Academia. Many researchers make their research available freely through this site to other members. An excellent way of tracking down interesting sources which may not be available in other locations.
  • Gateway for researchers within Academia to share their findings with a broad international audience of peers for free.

Read more about Grey Literature

There are several useful sources that can provide more useful information about grey literature.

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