grey literature – what a ‘mare!

I attended an HEE course on grey literature last week, led by Jo Hooper.

Now I’ve always thought that searching the grey literature was a bit of a nightmare – and I’m afraid that I didn’t get any reassurance from the course. It’s pretty much guaranteed to be much more time consuming than searching standard bibliographic databases. But….

I did get a useful reminder of why it was useful to include (the Tamiflu expose (read here and here), and  Reboxetine) and I did get a fresh look at what Grey Literature actually was.

Key descriptions that stick in my mind were that grey literature was “anything that can’t stand up by itself on a shelf”, referring to the pamphlet, slim report, leaflet that makes up a significant proportion of grey lit, and the fact that it might be online, and/or in another format – eg spreadsheets, etc.

I also liked the idea that “grey literature is ahead of curve of changes in how we communicate” This reminds us (me) that social media and discussion forums, and email discussion lists are also included in the mix. This means that the definition of what is grey and what is not, is going to continue to change over time.

But I also got some direction to further reading by the always excellent Simon Briscoe, Claire Stansfield, Alison Bethel, Morwenna Rogers and others about how to record the methodology of searching and including grey literature in a systematic review – really practical, useful advice.

Lots of links to further reading is in the guide I drafted.

PS – I shared this guide with colleagues and immediately got extra links which improve it. V2 is now available! (brace for further changes when more of my omissions become apparent!)

examples of grey literature

Source: UIC Library




4 Responses to grey literature – what a ‘mare!

  1. […] I was at a course last week in Manchester learning all about grey literature – read about it on my blog. […]

  2. Tom Roper says:

    When I were a lad, we used to define it as anything that escapes the normal methods of bibliographic control. I think that still holds good

    • Tom Roper says:

      And I see, from your splendid guide, that the speakers at this event touch on versions of that definition….but they don’t go very far back: 1997. It’s a term that’s been around for all of my professional life, and I see the OED gives the first use as in 1975:
      grey literature n. documentary material which is not commercially published or publicly available, such as technical reports or internal business documents.
      1975 Q. Rev. Biol. 50 346/1 Many references are from the soft or grey literature, such as progress reports and meeting summaries.

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