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Literature Review

This guide will help get you started with searching for information for your literature review.

Finding grey literature

What is grey (gray) literature?

Grey literature is research published outside of commercial or academic publishing. Grey literature might not look like a traditional book or article. You may find it in the form of a PDF or report, for example, but the information included should still be high quality.

Examples of grey literature include:

  • Government reports
  • Policy statements and issues papers
  • Conference proceedings
  • Pre-prints and post-prints of articles
  • Theses and dissertations
  • Research reports
  • Geological and geophysical surveys
  • Maps
  • Newsletters and bulletins
  • Fact sheets

Who makes grey literature?

  • Industry bodies
  • Private companies
  • Government bodies
  • Pressure or activist groups
  • Academics and Higher Degree Research students

Why use grey literature?

Grey literature is an excellent source of recent research in many disciplines.

Industry and government bodies often produce grey literature and make it available online faster than other publication types.

It's important to check grey literature, like theses and dissertations, to see what research other people are producing in your field.

Evaluating grey literature

Grey literature does not go through the same peer-review process as a commerical publication, so it's important to check it.

Make sure you cross-check information sourced in grey literature against information derived elsewhere to ensure its quality.

Use the same skills you would use to evaluate any other material:

  • Consider the author, their affiliations and qualifications.
  • Check reference lists to see who and what other material has been taken into account.
  • Any data collection methods and analysis should be transparent.
  • Examine literature reviews in theses to track search strategies and assess possible biases.
  • Check the date and currency of any information and try to find an update if it is older.
  • Check the dates of references to make sure the authors aren't relying on out-of-date information.

Tips for using grey literature

  • When you find PDFs of available grey literature documents, make sure you download them (they can sometimes vanish if the website link breaks).
  • Sometimes you might not be able to find full-text documents straight away. Consider using Document Delivery to source material not available at UOW or online.
  • Consult the Theses guide for information on where to look for dissertations.
  • Try to target the websites of relevant organisations to find grey literature. For example, you might like to browse the websites of the World Health Organisation, the Department of Primary Industries, the NSW Department of Education, or other bodies relevant to your topic.

Some tools to find grey literature on your topic:

You will likely need to adapt the search strategies you’ve used in Library databases so that they function effectively when searching for grey literature. This is because the discovery tools used to search for grey literature do not allow for complex search strategies.

Make sure you read the help guides for each of the following discovery tools.

If you're completing a systematic review and are unsure how to adapt your search strategy, we recommend you read some examples of systematic reviews published in good quality journals to see how others have incorporated grey literature searches. Make sure you keep a record of any adaptations you’ve made to your search strategy.