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Gender and Sexuality Studies

What is Grey Literature?

Grey literature is difficult to define, but its main characteristics are that its production and distribution is outside the realm of commercial publishing, and that it is ephemeral (Schopfel, J. & Farace, D.J. 'Grey literature' in Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science, 3rd ed. DOI: 10.1081/E-ELIS3-120043732).

Grey literature materialsGrey literature "may include, but are not limited to the following types of materials: reports (pre-prints, preliminary progress and advanced reports, technical reports, statistical reports, memoranda, state-of-the art reports, market research reports, etc.), theses, conference proceedings, technical specifications and standards, non-commercial translations, bibliographies, technical and commercial documentation, and official documents not published commercially (primarily government reports and documents)."

                                                     (Grey Literature Report).

Image source:  Fade Library Early Morning by Kieran Lamb (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Why would we want to find Grey Literature?

Gender and sexuality studies 'depends on access to to archival collections, pamphlet material, unpublished scholarship, and grass-roots or small press publications' (Greening, A. 'Archival materials' in Information sources in women's studies and feminism, Olson, H.A. ed., Munchen: K.G. Sauer, 2010).

Searching the grey literature offers the potential to balance any tendencies for publication bias (PHCRIS Accessed 9 Nov 15). In gender and sexuality studies, publication bias is the tendency for the voices of certain groups to have been excluded from mainstream publication during certain periods due to gender, sexual identity, race or social status. This exclusion means that it is sometimes necessary to go to grey literature to find these excluded voices.

Types of Grey Literature

Grey literature includes, but is not limited to:

  • Statistics
  • Government/organisational policies and reports
  • Regulations, guidelines
  • Theses
  • Conference papers
  • Unpublished papers
  • Unpublished letters
  • Newsletters

Searching for Grey Literature

Key questions to ask include:

  • What is your topic and key concepts?
  • What are your search limiters eg Australian
  • What non traditional areas would be likely sources for information required eg government reports; unpublished systematic reviews
  • Where would I find these information sources?

Searching Google and Google Scholar

Google and Google Scholar can be good sources for finding grey literature. To avoid unwanted results, use operators to limit your search.

Google Operators To search Google by domain or site, use

  • [search term] site:nn eg. health limits your search to Australian Government health related websites; 
  • research will bring up research pages from Deakin University.
  • Many grey literature documents are in .pdf format. Use filetype:pdf to limit to these.

Google Advanced  (Found under Settings in bottom right corner) Provides rudimentary search fields as well as limiters including region, site/domain, file type or where the search terms appear on the page. Google Scholar uses similar search strategies but with results limited to academic resources.

Evaluating grey literature

As with all information, it is important to identify whether the information contained in grey literature is credible. Be aware of private research organisations,  'think tanks' etc as they have their own commercial, political or social interests and biases.

The AACODS Checklist, (Authority, Accuracy, Coverage, Objectivity, Date, Significance) by Jess Tyndal at Flinders University, is a good resource on evaluating grey literature.

(Content courtesy of La Trobe Univerity Library)