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Grey Literature in the Health Sciences: Tips for Finding It

Guide to locating and evaluating grey literature (or gray literature) in the health sciences.

Tips for Finding Grey Literature

Instead of performing searches in general-purpose health science databases, such as PubMed, for key words or subject headings, a search of the grey literature may involve first considering what types of organizations are likely to be interested in the same research questions you are investigating.  Consider:

  • government agencies
  • advocacy groups and private agencies
  • industry, trade or professional organizations

There are many sources that list grey literature producing organizations in the health sciences. Searching these lists for organizations relevant to your topic is a good way to start. Some of these sources are listed in the box to the right.

Once you have identified an organization of interest, you can generally locate publications on their Web site. This may be done by utilizing the site's search box. However, many organizations have specific sections of their site dedicated to publications (see the image below for an example). You may find what you are looking for more quickly by looking there first.

The strategy you use to locate literature on these sites will likely be broader than the strategy used to locate articles in a database. In systematic reviews, particularly, the strategy used in a database like Medline will be very narrow and focused. However, the strategies used to locate grey literature will need to be broader. For example, you may search for "clinical practice guidelines" in a database, but search just for "guidelines" when looking for grey literature.

Screencapture of a navigation bar with a publications section

Grey literature can also be located in some databases, in institutional and preprint repositories, as well as by searching for conference proceedings. More information on these sources and on finding particular types of grey literature can be found under the 'Sources' tab.

Grey Literature Producing Organizations

These sites provide directories of organizations that produce grey literature in the health sciences. The Encyclopedia of Associations is a general resource for organzations which may be relevant to your search.

How do I get the full-text?

In some cases a search for grey literature will end with you finding references to some great information, but not having access to the full-text. Before purchasing access (or giving up), contact a librarian for help locating the full-text. It may be available at the library or it may be something we can borrow through interlibrary loan.