Skip to Main Content
Syracuse University Libraries

Grey Literature: Home

A guide to help define and search for scholarly and research literature that is not normally included in the commercial databases.

What is Grey Literature

Documents that are considered grey literature can include the following: reports, white papers, technical reports, technical papers, technical briefs, working papers, discussion papers, policy papers, forecasts, or studies. In some circles theses and dissertations are included. Also, with the influx of digital repositories and OA sites, many of the documents found there are now thought of as being a part of grey literature.

Grey literature will be issued by various organizations, i.e., NGOs, IGOs, corporations, firms, professional associations, market and industry research firms, medical research centers, think tanks, federal, state, regional or local governmental departments and agencies and will be published irregularly or on an as-issued basis. Occasionally some may be published regularly if it’s part of a series. Even though some grey literature can be produced by specialized commercial firms, most grey literature will not by published by academic presses or commercial publishers.

The majority of this type of literature will be found in social science, science, business, health and medical and government related subject areas and will focus on scientific research, political topics, policy issues and social findings.  Grey literature will often contain referenced citations and footnotes, etc. but might not be formally peer-reviewed. Also, they may not be indexed, provide citations or content that can be accessed in commercial databases, which makes them sometimes difficult to locate.

Pros and Cons of Grey Literature


  • Provides access to a diverse set of sources
  • Identify ongoing or unpublished studies or research
  • Find niche or emerging research areas and also that contain research findings with a negative result
  • Source may be more current than formally published research
  • Able to connect with content from a wider and more diverse range of researchers


  • Most often grey lit is not formally published
  • Peer-review status may be lacking or unclear, therefore content may be biased in some way and vary greatly in quality
  • Harder to systematically search for
  • Keep track of the sources you wish to use. Reference their locations because URLs can change at any time and locating them in the future may be problematic

Why use Grey Literature

  • It can provide avenues to new ideas or perspectives
  • It allows you to broadly explore a topic and understand the less formal conversations around it
  • It may help counterbalance peer-reviewed publication biases
  • Can provide a wider and more comprehensive view of emerging research areas and ideas

Evaluating Grey Literature

Critically evaluating all your sources is very important, especially when you include grey literature since these sources are most likely not per-reviewed, you will need to ask yourself:

  • Who created this report or article?
  • Am I detecting any biases when I read through it?
  • Are the authors/creators respected in their field?

Although grey lit is an important facet of research, be aware that various academic disciplines may place different values on this category of research. Consider these steps when deciding on whether to use grey lit or not.

  • Pay attention to the sources other authors/researchers/scholars are using in your field of study. If others are using grey lit sources, then chances are can as well.
  • If you are doing a broad sweep across the literature in your field, then grey lit will be able to fill in a few holes or gaps for you that a focused peer-reviewed search of sources can’t.


Profile Photo
John Olson
358 Bird Library

Individual appointments for in-depth reference inquiries are also welcome through MS Teams or Zoom.