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Built Environment

Subject guide for The Bartlett UCL Faculty of The Built Environment

Grey literature - an overview

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  • Pre-print or unpublished research
  • Clinical trial data
  • Patents and technical standards information, such as British Standards (BSO) or International Standards (ISO)

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 and organisations such as the OECDWorld Bank and WHO. See also Grey literature - an overview.

Below are some useful sites for finding grey literature. Some links will take you to databases which UCL Library Services subscribes to. These require that you authenticate with your UCL userID and password. Be sure also to checkall relevant subject guides for subject-specific sources of grey literature.

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.