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Grey literature

What is grey literature?

Grey literature is almost anything not published by commercial publishers. A widely accepted definition of grey literature is:

"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".1,2

Typical examples of grey literature include conference papers; reports from groups such as government departments, associations and researchers; maps; data sets; unpublished clinical trials; theses and dissertations; patents; standards and newsletters.

Searching for grey literature

Searching for grey literature is not as straight forward as searching for published literature, such as books and journal articles.

Some grey literature can be discovered through library databases, such as conference presentations, standards and industry reports. Other types of grey literature are found on the websites of their authors, such as reports by government departments, or newsletters by professional associations. Searching for grey literature requires a variety of approaches. These are outlined below, organised by material type.

Theses and dissertations

Trove is produced by the National Library of Australia and enables federated searching of a wide range of information sources focusing on Australia and Australians.

To search for Australian and International theses:

  1. Click on Advanced Search, Books & Libraries
  2. Select Thesis in the Format field, and tick the Australian content box.
  3. Enter your terms in the search box and click search

Trove contains all of the thesis records that were previously available via Australasian Digital Theses Program.

Conference proceedings

Library database

Scopus and Web of Science are two major databases containing conference presentation information. Other databases such as ProQuest Central may also contain records of conference presentations. Search for your topic, and narrow the results to conference related records. These may have different names in each database, e.g. 'conference paper' in Scopus and 'meeting abstract' or 'proceedings paper' in Web of Science.

Web searching

Search for your topic, and keywords related to conference presentations, such as 'conference', 'seminar', 'symposium', 'roundtable', 'poster', 'meeting'. For example:

(topic or area of interest) AND (conference OR seminar OR symposium OR roundtable OR poster OR meeting)

Once you have discovered a conference website, search the site by hand, or use the targeted website searching technique. In this technique, we enter our search terms and a specific website domain name into the browser, to retrieve matching documents from that website only.3 For example:

(fish oil OR "omega 3") AND eczema



Search each Government department website by hand, through browsing or using the website's search box. 

Alternatively, use the targeted website searching technique and limit the search to government websites (one country at a time) and PDF files, as reports are often published as PDFs:

(topic) filetype:pdf

Stakeholders and associations

Identify associations by searching for your topic along with keywords related to associations, such as 'association', 'organisation', e.g.

(topic) AND (association OR club OR group OR professional OR organisation OR NGO)

Once you have a list of relevant groups, search each website by hand, through browsing or using the website's search box. Alternatively, use the targeted website searching technique and limit the search to website.

Experts and authors

Discover authors

To discover influential authors, Scopus and Web of Science both allow topic searches to be analysed by author.


Search for your topic from the 'documents' search screen > analyze search resultsauthors

Web of Science

Search for your topic from the 'Basic search' screen > analyze results > documents by author

Once you have found an author, select their name to see the publications they have authored.

Find publications by specific authors

To find publications from a single author, use the author search screens in Scopus or Web of Science. To search for an author in Google Scholar, open the menu > advanced search > enter the name in the 'return articles authored by' box.

Searching for an authors' ORCiD profile may also help find their complete list of publications and academic activities. ORCiD stands for Open Researcher and Contributor ID. As a personal identifier, it is not connected to any institution and will therefore contain records of publications made throughout a researchers career. 

Contact authors and experts

Asking knowledgeable experts for information on relevant papers and studies may help uncover extra articles or unpublished studies. For each person you contact, keep a record of the date and any information they guide you to.

Databases indexing grey literature

These databases collect and index grey literature. Search for your topic within each.


  1. Farace, D.J. (1998), Foreword - In: Third International Conference on Grey Literature: Perspectives on the Design and Transfer of Scientific and Technical Information, 13-14. November 1997 in Luxembourg. GL'97 Conference Proceedings, p. iii. - (GL Conference Series, ISSN 1386-2316 ; No. 3). ISBN 90-74854-17-6
  2. Schöpfel, J., C. Stock, D.J. Farace, and J. Frantzen (2005), Citation Analysis in Grey Literature: Stakeholders in the Grey Circuit. – In: The Grey Journal, vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 31-40. –ISSN 1574-1796. 
  3. Edwards, I. (2018). Search like a robot: Developing targeted search algorithms. Australian Law Librarian26(2), 104.
Searching the literature