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Anthropology 696A: Anthropological Research Design

About Grey Literature

What is it?

“… information produced on all levels of government, academia, business and industry in electronic and print formats not controlled by commercial publishing i.e. where publishing is not the primary activity of the producing body” -- ICGL Luxembourg definition, 1997; Expanded in New York, 2004

Examples include:

  • annual reports
  • conference proceedings
  • theses and dissertations
  • white papers
  • online communities such as listservs and forums
  • research reports
  • technical reports
  • newsletters, emails, blogs and social media

Who creates it?

Grey literature is created by researchers and practitioners in various fields. The groups and institutions that create grey literature may be government (including state and local), industry, NGOs, think tanks and research groups that disseminate information in the form of reports or papers rather than by publishing scholarly articles in journals.

Why use it?

Grey literature may be a valuable addition to your research by providing a fuller picture of your research topic. Grey literature may also be more current than other published material because it can be produced and shared quickly on the web rather than going through a peer-review process.

Finding Grey Literature

Grey literature can be difficult to find since it’s not typically indexed in commercial databases such as those you’ll find at the library. It’s also not systematically distributed, collected, archived or preserved. However, here are some tips to get you started:

  • Brainstorm who your key stakeholders are. For instance, are there individuals or organizations that are known experts in the discipline?
  • Think about what kinds of literature you are interested in. For instance, are you looking for theses and dissertations? Would technical papers or patents contain the info you're seeking?
  • What geographic locations are you interested in? For instance, are there local government agencies that may be specific to your topic?

Here are some tools that may be useful to your search:

  • tDAR (the Digital Archaeological Record)
  • OAIster (union catalog of open access resources)
  • GovInfo (US GPO includes official publications from all three branches of government)

Google Search Tips

Operator What it does Example
"quotes around a phrase" Searches on a string of words rather than each word individually "search on this phrase"
"to be or not to be"
"word" Searches on the exact spelling of the word within the quotes "Thomson"
site: Searches within a specific domain (such as .gov) or website (such as
filetype: Searches for a specific filetype  filetype:pdf
link: Searches for pages that link to a specified page.

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