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Drexel Library

Archival Studies: Gray Literature

For Archival Studies

Check List of Starting Points

Grey Source Index:
A definitive directory of organizations that host online repositories of self-published documents, organized by categories.  Browse the overall topical schema to find resources in your field of interest. Click through on each to test your keywords in their repositories.

Associations Unlimited:
Professional and trade associations offer unique insider perspectives on the world of their membership. Of special interest are industry reports and member surveys you will not find elsewhere. Keyword search or subject browse for relevant organizations . Consult the entry of those you find for publications or links to websites. Call or email with specific information requests.

Directory of publications includes entries for many little-known specialty newsletters. It can open a path to communities of practice such as "The Bulletin of the Association of ..." where hot topics lurk that are often absent from the literature databases of academic libraries. If not available as an open publication, email the newsletter editor to ask "whether Topic X or Y has been covered in recent years."

Pointers from News & Popular Publications

Searching Social Media

Theses & Dissertations

Most scholarly fields follow the rule of "one idea per article." Given the weight placed on journal article citation count, it is better to cite the individual articles the author writes in the course of their doctoral dissertation than the entire dissertation itself. That said, theses and dissertations may offer unique ideas that can serve as finding aides when followed back to the original sources cited.

IF you plan to cite an entire thesis or dissertation, you may consider doing so as a "published work" if it has been made available through a commercial database such as Proquest Dissertation & Theses. If available only through the website of the degree-granting institution, it may be more appropriate to cite as an "unpublished work" or "personal communication." Check with your instructor for guidance.

More discussion on this topic.

Related Guides

Why Use Gray Literature?

Grey literature is produced by government, academics, business and industry, but not as an activity controlled by commercial publishers. It can be difficult to navigate. It includes theses and dissertations, conference papers and proceedings, research reports, government documents, technical notes and specifications, proposals, data compilations, clinical trials, etc.

The term “grey literature” derives from the uncertainty of the status of this information as it has not gone through peer review for publication. Why use it?

  • You might find new evidence – for example, conferences are where researchers share insights and new findings
  • You might discover new references to published literature that your searches may have missed
  • Including grey literature makes your review more thorough

Caution:  While gray literature may provide useful evidence, it is not of the same standard as published, peer-reviewed work.

Databases with Conference Proceedings & Posters

Despite the ease and lower cost of electronic publishing, posters and papers delivered at conferences are still primarily made available via the association or conference host. Their importance varies between subject domains, with some fields weighing their conference papers equal or more impactful than other formats. Even more challenging to capture are posters, and are therefore often not available after the conference aside from an abstract. Aside from repositories of the conference hosts themselves, a few library databases specialize in capturing proceedings.

Selected Science & Technology Repositories

U.S. Repositories:

Non US Sources:

Google Power Searching for Gray Literature

Advanced Google Search -
Use your keywords and limit the scope of the search to retrieve:

site or domain: items within just the .GOV or .EDU or .ORG domains
- file type: of just ".PDF" or ".PPT" to find reports and presentations. Try file type ".XLS" to locate just data.
- link: though no longer as good as pre-2017 version, the command link: followed by a url can still show a few referring sites

Command searching Google -
Use your keywords and special command characters:

- Put @ in front of a word to search social media. For example: @twitter.
- Put quotation marks around your "key word phrase" to find that exact string of characters

Advanced Google Scholar Search

- Within the published literature, specify multiple criteria such as phrases within title or body of article, author names, date ranges

Google N-gram:

- When did your specific terms first appear in the published literature of books? See a frequency chart of terms found in GoogleBooks
Example: "autoimmune disorder"