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ESP 178: Applied Research Methods

What is 'Grey Literature'?

Defining Grey Literature

Grey literature is defined as

That which is produced on all levels of government, academics, business, and industry in print and electronic formats, but which is not controlled by traditional publishers 

They are often white papers, policies, proceedings, or other documents that are outside the traditional scope of publishing venues and, as such, may be challenging to find.

What is a White Paper?

Often, the term white paper refers to governmental reports, indicating that the document is authoritative and informative. However, much of the grey literature published today is authored by think tanks or nonprofits. This genre of publication is used to argue a specific position or propose a solution to a problem, addressing an audience outside of their organization. 

The Purpose of a White Paper

The purpose of a white paper is to advocate that a certain policy solution is the best approach for tackling a particular problem. Organizations that seek to publish on specialized, highly relevant, and sometimes very urgent topics will hire experts, practitioners, and/or scholars to conduct research and publish reports outside of traditional academic publishing.

Unlike scholarly publications, which provide analysis and make general recommendations, white paper authors aim to craft and influence specific governmental and/or industry policies. These organizations are often privately funded through donations or special interest groups, or they may be companies pursuing governmental funding for their services. Therefore, it is critical to consider the motivations behind publishing reports in addition to scrutinizing their methods.

What Kind of Problems Need to be Solved?

A white paper is a document that informs readers on a particular topic/issue and uses authoritative knowledge and research to argue for a specific solution. The audience for a white paper can be the general public, with the goal of shaping public opinion, or it may be legislators and governmental officials, with the aim of influencing their decision-making. To persuade your audience, you need to focus on their needs. If you can address the problems that your readers want to solve, they will read your white paper for a solution.

Searching for Grey Literature Online

Google Advanced Search Techniques

Google Search of Limited Domains:

  • This search technique lets you limit where Google searches to find more robust results

Limiter What Is Searched Example
(search terms) site:*.gov only government web sites (phytoremediation) site:*.gov
(search terms) site:*.edu university & college web sites (phytoremediation) site:*.edu
(search terms) site:*.org domains that end in .org (phytoremediation) site:*.org


This isn’t foolproof, other domains exist, more info: Generic Top-Level Domain