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Grey Literature

Develop your search strategy

Grey literature searches are commonly included in the research methods sections of literature and systematic reviews as a way of demonstrating a comprehensive search for information and for addressing publication bias. Finding grey literature can be tricky, and the strategy you develop to find the literature can depend on your kind of research. However, a basic search strategy will ensure you search all the relevant places. 

It's important to approach your search systematically as grey literature can sometimes be hard to find. Before you start searching, ask yourself:

  • What exactly am I looking for? Be as specific as possible.
    • What do you hope to find out from the grey literature?
    • Are there limits on what you're looking for? e.g. must be about Australia.
  • Who might produce that kind of information?

When developing a search strategy, specify what type of content you want to appear in your search results. Review the Southern Cross University How to Find & Document Grey Literature document.

Example search strategies you could use:

Try adding these keywords as an additional concept in your search strategy:

  • unpublished
  • thesis OR dissertation OR doctorate
  • ("working paper" OR "white paper" OR "green paper"​) AND Australi*
  • government AND (report OR strategy)
  • (conference OR seminar OR symposium OR workshop) AND (paper OR proceedings)

The Search Process

The following search process illustrates a search strategy for locating grey literature as part of the overall research process. 

Figure illustrates a strategy for locating grey literature as part of the overall research process. Adapted from Duffield, A. et al. (2004).

  • Step 1 and 2 of the process involve identification of suitable search terms and applying those terms in relevant databases of peer-reviewed literature (Example, MEDLINE, Scopus, etc).
  • The "Hand search" referred to in Step 3, begins the grey literature search, ackowedges that database indexes will not find all relevant information and a visual scan of electronic or print (i.e at the Library) primary sources is required for a comprehensive search.
  • The final part of the process, Step 4 involves applying suitable search terms to a web search engine (Example Google) and/or specialist grey literature database.

Once you have performed your grey literature search, good practice is to document the strategy used either as a narrative only, or a narrative that refers to a table of sources, search terms, limiters, search results, excluded results and number of studies included for final consideration.

Grey literature is generated by a wide variety of public and private organisations and can often be disseminated in hundreds of journals and web pages. This makes it challenging to find grey literature, but various tools and techniques are available to streamline your ability to locate it. This can mean a mixed approach of using library databases, search engines such as Google, as well as techniques such as browsing relevant websites and hand-searching of relevant journals. 

Search tips

  • Remember there are two spellings you may need to use when searching for (gray OR grey) literature in general
  • Find and search the online catalogues of large libraries such as Trove
  • Search the host sites of conferences and academic associations for conference papers or proceedings
  • Find out if there is a relevant professional body and search for information on their website.

Searching Google

  • You can use Google's Advanced Search to formulate effective grey literature searches. 
  • Try restricting your internet search to the .org and/or .gov domains. See Indicators to consider for websites for more information
  • Google (like other databases) allows you to use Boolean operators (AND, OR, and NOT) to help you refine your searchers. See Refine web searches for other symbols and words to use in your search. 
  • Google will display results based on your personal search history, preferences and website visits. You can use Verbatim mode in the tools option to disable this function to streamline your results. 


Watch this short video about using the Advanced Search function in Google.

Further resources


Handsearching is a critical part of the review process to find materials not found through traditional database searches. It is a manual process to examine and identify further relevant studies. Read more about handsearching in the Systematic and Systematic-Style Review Library Guide.

Managing your searches 

Information and documents on the internet can disappear at any time! If you find something useful for your research, ensure that you take proper notes to record what you have found. Also, remember to download and save a copy of the resource/s you have found. Use the search plan template below to help you manage your grey literature searches.

Citation management

Comprehensive searches involve searching multiple databases and search engines. This can often lead to large amounts of data and also duplicated references. To organise your references, remove duplicates, prepare your citations and format your final paper. It is recommended that you use a citation management system such as EndNote


Duffield, A., Reid, G., Walker, D., & Shoham, J. (2004). Review of the published literature for the impact and cost-effectiveness of six nutrition related emergency interventions. Emergency Nutrition Network.