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Critical Writing Program Fall 2021: Craft Of Prose by Nicholas Herman: Grey Literature

Grey Literature

Grey Literature is not academic/scholarly piece of writing. It includes government documents, foundation reports, white papers, working papers, issue briefs, organizational (versus academic) research, and other kinds of policy reports. It can be challenging to distinguish grey literature from academic sources, and often enough scholars are authors of this grey literature, blurring the lines all the more. An important distinction between grey literature and academic publications are that the latter are peer reviewed by scholars with expertise in the field. 

Searching for Grey Literature: 

  • You may find references to this kind of literature in bibliographies of articles and books (e.g., citation chasing). 
  • You can often find it by means of a Google search, experimenting with different key words and adding genres such as “foundation report," "issue brief," "policy report," "funding report,” “working paper,” “study,” or “white paper.” 
  • Some other possible sources you may want to investigate
    • The World Bank -- Penn Libraries subscribes to the World Bank e-Library. You can also search the World Bank directly. 
    • Pew Research Center is a "a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping the world"
    • Ford Foundation--The Ford Foundation's mission is to, "reduce poverty and injustice, strengthen democratic values, promote international cooperation, and advance human achievement."
    • International Monetary Foundation -- Penn Libraries subscribes to the IMF eLibrary. You can also search the IMF directly. 
    • United Nations -- Penn Libraries subscribes to the UN iLibrary. You can also search the UN site directly. 
    • Public Affairs Information Service (PAIS) is a database that indexes and provides access to government documents, statistical directories, grey literature, research reports, conference reports, publications of international agencies.
    • HeinOnline provides access to legal periodicals, international law, treaties, court reports, historical and contemporary legislation, and more 

Some social science databases will index this material and it may appear in government or organizational websites or through other means rather than formal publication. The creators of these documents may be teams or individuals, and the authors are not always listed.

Unlike academic articles, grey literature doesn't necessarily go through a vetting or peer review process. As such, when using this material, you will want to have an understanding of the organizational body sponsoring the work. Who funds them? What is their mission? Are they a lobbying or political group? What kinds of information do they publish?  Do other organizations cite them?  Who and for what reasons? Google Scholar is a great way to find out who is citing a particular publication. 

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