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Grey Literature

This guide introduces you to grey literature, why you might use it in your research and how to find different types of grey literature.


While many of the Library's subject specific research databases will index some grey literature, on this page we have highlighted databases and other online resources that you can use to search for and find some of the common types of grey literature.

Key database

Also of interest:

Take a look at your subject guide to find other subject specific research databases:

Clinical trials

If you're doing clinical research then an important type of grey literature is clinical trials. While many trials are reported in published literature, others are unpublished or ongoing.

There are databases and online resources, such as clinical trial registries, that can help you find both published and unpublished clinicial trials.

Conference proceedings

Conference proceedings are a collection of abstracts and papers presented at conferences. They depict the leading edge of research — revealing emerging trends and new ideas before they appear in journals.

Many of the Library's subject specific research databases will cover conference proceedings. However, If not found in your database(s) of choice, use Web of Science Core Collections which includes Conference Proceedings Citation Indexes.

Take a look at your subject guide to find subject specific research databases:

Engineering standards (& Eurocodes) and regulatory documentation

The Library provides access to a wide range of standards documents, including national and international technical standards, through databases and online resources.

Health and medicine

In the health sciences and medical sciences grey literature is vital for developing a more complete view of research on a particular topic and for producing systematic reviews and other rigorous approaches to evidence synthesis. 

Depending on your research many of the different types of grey literature highlighted on this page will be useful but the following, freely available, online resources may also help you locate grey literature in these areas.


News sources can be invaluable research resources. There are various types of news sources you can choose from, including:

  • Newspapers
  • News magazines
  • News wires
  • Newsreels
  • News broadcasts
  • News monitoring services
  • News transcripts

Although, not always considered as grey literature sources in all subject areas, the news sources can be helpful in assisting in the discovery of grey literature.  For example, news items may flag the latest research report or findings, record speeches, contain statistics and other data not otherwise published.

There is a huge amount of news research material available to you at the University, both current material and archives, UK-based and international.

Our Newspapers, Magazines and Other News Sources guide takes you through the large number of news resources available to you.

Organisations (large and international)

When looking for grey literature you may have to think about which organisations have produced reports or publications you may be interested in and then search that organisations website for material. 

Not all websites have good search functionality though and you may find that using the advanced search options offered by web search engines allows you to focus your search and target grey literature. For example, Google's Advanced Search has a number of different options that can be useful for this kind of searching. Click on the "Google's Advanced Search" tab above for more details.

The following databases or online resources may also help you locate documents from specific organisations.

Google's Advanced Search has a number of options that can help improve searching.

In the "Then narrow your results by..." section there are options that are particularly useful when searching for grey literature, including:

  • Region
    • Find pages published in a particular region - can be useful if looking at impact of topics and research in different areas of the world.
  • Site or domain
    • Search across one website e.g., or limit your results to a domain e.g. .org, .edu, etc.
      • Really useful when a website's own search functionality is not good enough.
      • Note that not all websites will allow Google to search them.
  • Terms appearing
    • Search for terms in the whole page, page title or web address, or links to the page you are looking for.
  • File type
    • Search for pages in the file format you prefer.
      • Includes file formats which can be particularly useful for grey literature materials eg. Adobe Acrobat PDF, Microsoft Excel/Word/Powerpoint.


You can also use these options with their search operators within the usual search box rather than using the advanced search and drop-down menus e.g. intitle:brexit filetype:pdf

Official publications

Official publications can be broadly defined as the documents and materials produced by the government and governmental departments during the course of government business.

Content ranges from statements of law and policy to government reports and statistics.  These publications can be a valuable primary research source and are especially useful to those researching in law, politics and history.  However, they are of relevance across all subjects as they address all aspects of governmental work such as science, education, law, agriculture, transport, health, etc.

There are databases and online resources that allow you to find some of these types of publications.

In some cases you may have to search or browse the relevant government websites to find this kind of material. If the search functionality on these websites is poor then you may want to consider using Google's Advanced Search instead. 



Patents are often the first, and only, place that information on a new technology is published so may provide a useful source of research information.

There are databases and online resources that allow you to search for patents and provide links to full-text patents. Patents not available online can be obtained through the Library's Inter-library Loans service. 

Note that searching these databases does not provide an alternative to a search carried out by a Patent Agent as part of the patenting process; intellectual property guidance and support for University inventors is available from Edinburgh Innovations.


Regional journal collections

These online journal collections may have academic articles you cannot find in the subject specific research databases.

Theses and dissertations

A thesis or dissertation is a document submitted in support of candidature for a higher degree or professional qualification, presenting the author’s research and findings. Theses are extremely valuable sources of information, as they consist of substantial primary research in specialised topics and provide very detailed data and analysis.

They will also have extensive bibliographies, detailing the published literature on the given research topic.

There are databases and online resources that allow you to search for theses and dissertations both at the University of Edinburgh and elsewhere.

Note that at the University of Edinburgh the Library only receives copies of PhD theses. The library does not routinely receive copies of undergraduate or masters dissertations, although some masters dissertations may be submitted to the Edinburgh Research Archive (ERA).


Other search tools

You may need to use a variety of different types of information and search tools to discover grey literature in your research field. 

On this page databases and online resources have been recommended for some of the common types of grey literature but grey literature can be found in other search tools as well:

  • Library catalogues - theses, dissertations, official publications, research reports
  • Repositories - theses, dissertations, research reports, pre print, trials

Click on the relevant tab to find out more.

Library Catalogues will include some forms of grey literature, e.g. , government reports, statistics, working papers and conference papers.

You can search by known information such as authors or the title of documents, and can also search by organisational name to find things like conference papers and working papers from particular organisations.

You can also search more widely by using relevant subject keywords and then add terms such as report, paper, proceedings etc. in order to focus in on grey literature type publications.  

You can use DiscoverEd to search for material available in our library.

You can use the following services to search across multiple library collections:


A variety of grey literature is held in online repositories where researchers and organisations post their work for archiving and discovery purposes.There are a range of different types of repositories.

Institutional Repositories

Many university and other academic bodies have institutional research respositories where academics and students post their papers, articles, books, etc.

For example, ERA (Edinburgh Research Archive) is a digital repository of original research produced at The University of Edinburgh. Holdings include full-text digital doctoral theses, masters dissertations, project reports, briefing papers and out-of-print materials.

You will normally have to search these institutional repositories separately, but Google Scholar does search some repositories (though no way to know which ones) and search engines like BASE may also be useful.

Grey Literature Repositories

You can also look at respositories dedicated to the archiving of grey literature materials.

Subject Based Repositories

Subject repositories are digital collections of the research outputs within particular subject areas which have been created and developed over time to meet the needs of specific research communities. They promote the rapid dissemination of research findings

Some act as an archive for early drafts of research papers, which are subject to comment and amendment before appearing as final published articles.  These are often referred to as 'pre-print archives' or 'pre print repositories'.

You should check for a subject repositories in your research area as they can be a good way of finding the very latest research papers and discussion on a topic.