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A subject guide for the Archaeology collections held in the Institute of Archaeology Library

Grey Literature - an overview

A woman drawing a skeleton excavated in a grave on an archaeological excavation. There are two other skeletons in graves to her left

© Archaeological dig, Derry / Londonderry (3) by Kenneth  Allen, CC BY-SA 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons.

Grey literature refers to any information source that is not commercially published. As these sources are dispersed and not collected by centralised publishing platforms, they are sometimes difficult to find and can be tiresome to search. 

What counts as grey literature?

  • Internal reports, such as government white papers
  • Meeting minutes and notes
  • Conference abstracts, papers
  • Theses and dissertations
  • Pre-print or unpublished research

Why use grey literature?

  • Often good quality information produced by experts in their field, e.g. white papers are commissioned by the government from a body of subject specialists
  • Providing important insights into the 'reality' of research, e.g. clinical trial data that is not published because the study was not successful and therefore not commercially beneficial
  • Reflects the expertise of individuals not associated with academia e.g. independent think tanks; charities representing oppressed groups or individuals; other industry experts (for example, in business or technology).

Where can I find grey literature?

The definition of grey literature is evolving but it is generally defined as content that is produced and published by non-commercial private or public entities including pressure groups, charities, societies, commercial archaeological companies, and organisations such as the Archaeology Data Service. See also Grey literature - an overview. 

For Archaeology, grey literature is currently dominated by open access research articles and monographs (often older and out of print materials) produced by the leading publishers for Archaeology (e.g. Archaeopress), projects, universities, and societies/organisations. Commercial excavation units in the UK also make their grey excavation data available, often through their own websites. E.g., Oxford Archaeology

Below are some useful sites for finding grey literature in Archaeology. 

Google and Google Scholar also list grey literature. However, combing through a large number of results can often be time-consuming so only use this as a source only if you know the title of a report, working paper or conference paper.

Grey Literature adds another layer to your research and provides a different perspective thereby making your research more interesting. However, it is important to evaluate grey literature sources carefully by considering the credentials of the entity that produced the information as there may be inherent biases associated with the production of this information.