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Civil Engineering Research Guide

What is Grey Literature?

Grey Literature is any kind of literature that has not been published through traditional publishing means. It is literature that is not usually found in academic research databases or in other mainstream sources. It is produced by organizations such as government and inter-governmental agencies, by non-governmental organizations (NGOs), by industry, business, and academia.

Academics and researchers tend to put most trust in information that has gone through the peer-review process. This kind of literature is often referred to as "black literature". The term "grey literature" comes from the nebulous status of the information.

Grey literature includes:

  • reports of many kinds -- preliminary and advanced reports, pre-prints, technical reports, statistical reports, memoranda, state-of-the-art reports, market research reports, policy statements, annual reports
  • dissertations and theses
  • conference abstracts and proceedings
  • presentations
  • technical specifications and standards
  • patents
  • bibliographies
  • technical and commercial documentation
  • newsletters
  • government reports, white papers, working papers, internal documentation
  • informal communication (email, letters, conversations)

Also, see here for a long list of what is considered grey literature!

** Grey literature does not go through the peer-review process, so always make sure to critically evaluate any grey lit source you use. **

Why should you search for Grey Literature and include it in your research?

  • It may be more current than traditionally published sources, with better coverage of emerging research areas 
  • A literature search that accesses only “black literature” will likely miss information vital to research
  • It can be a better source of information on policies and programs