Gray literature is data or information that hasn’t been published by commercial publishers and distributors. It can be used by researchers and academics to support their work.
Some examples of gray literature include white papers, newsletters, blog posts, speeches, government data and statistics, theses, podcasts, policy documents, social media posts, maps, surveys, working papers, reprints, and so much more. There really is no end to the gray literature at your fingertips!
Benefits of Gray Literature
Using gray literature can be a great way to strengthen your research because it’s usually free and it presents real-world examples and data that may help back up arguments in your study.
Gray literature is often produced by companies, organizations, and individuals (e.g., government workers) who work on the ground in their fields. This provides a more diverse range of opinions and perspectives than academic papers.
Another benefit of gray literature is that it’s usually more up-to-date than the more traditionally used literature in academic journals because it’s less likely to be held back by publishing delays. This means that using gray literature gives you the opportunity to use emerging data.
However, because gray literature is usually not peer-reviewed, it’s not always considered reliable. It’s best practice to fact-check any gray literature that you choose to use to support your study.
How to Find Gray Literature
Because gray literature is so broad, there’s a whole host of places where you can find it. Such resources include:
Try using multiple search engines when looking for gray literature. For example, you may find varying results on Google, Yahoo, Google Scholar, and DuckDuckGo.
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And don’t just rely on search engine results because some things won’t show up there. Think about the organizations, companies, activist groups, individuals, and more that may produce gray literature related to your study, and check out their websites, social media pages, and databases.
Pro tip: It’s been said that what goes on the internet is out there forever, but sometimes things do get deleted. So, make sure you save the gray literature you want to use. This can be as simple as keeping a record in a Word document or downloading the material.
Pro tip: Just like any supporting data, gray literature needs to be properly cited and, when applicable, analyzed in your literature review. Be sure to check the style guide that you’re using for specific guidelines for citing gray literature. For example, here are the APA guidelines for citing gray literature.
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