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Research Process

These pages offer an introduction to the research process at a very general level.

Grey Literature Defined

Grey literature is literature produced by government, academics, business and industry in print and electronic formats, but which is not controlled by commercial publishers. A widely quoted definition of grey literature is "literature which is not readily available through normal book-selling channels, and therefore difficult to identify and obtain" (Wood, 1982). Grey literature includes theses and dissertations, conference papers and proceedings, reports (such as white papers, working papers, internal documentation), government documents, technical notes and specifications, proposals, datasets/statistics, policies/procedures, patents, unpublished trial data, regulatory data, speeches, urban plans, test instruments, pre-prints, company information, social media, and more. A full list of Document Types in Grey Literature is provided by GreyNet International.

It is crucial to note where the term “grey literature” derives from. Grey literature comes from the uncertainty of the status of this information. However, in cases where there may not be much information on a topic in peer-reviewed research, grey literature may prove a very valuable source of information and introduce alternate viewpoints. Additional benefits to using grey literature include:

  • Grey literature can be published much more quickly since it does not have to be subjected to the lengthy peer-review process. Results of studies may appear in gray literature 12 to 18 months before being published via traditional channels.
  • Online information from organizations may be updated more frequently than traditional published journals/books.
  • Some grey literature may contain more depth—for example, a dissertation may include some raw data not published in a journal article that author goes on to write.
  • Grey literature may provide a broader overview of an issue/topic, such as a white paper or fact sheet.
  • Minimizes reporting or publication biases; grey literature is more likely to include negative results - e.g. clinical trials.

Locating Grey Literature

Grey literature may present a number of challenges for the researcher, making it difficult to identify and find. Consider the following when searching for grey literature:

  • May not be widely disseminated
  • May not be published online or not stable online (URL/website may change)
  • Older documents may not be archived
  • Format and citation information may be inconsistent
  • Volume of material may be overwhelming and consuming
  • May not have an international standard book number (ISBN) or an international standard serial number (ISSN)
  • Typically not peer-reviewed and quality of evidence varies

Review the Evaluating Information Guide to help determine if a resource is appropriate for use in your research. The AACODS checklist is designed to enable evaluation and critical appraisal of grey literature.

The techniques below outline suggestions for locating select types of grey literature, as well as searching more broadly online. Please contact the Library with any questions.

Grey Literature Types

Clinical trials are a form of grey literature and can inform current research conducted by organizations, Federal agencies like the National Institutes of Health, academic institutions, and individual health care providers. These studies investigate the effectiveness of new treatments, interventions, drugs, procedures, and devices in order to improve health outcomes for a specific population. 

Several Library databases and online resources provide access to full-text clinical trials. See our Clinical Trials Guide for detailed instructions.

If you are unable to locate the full text for a particular clinical trial, you may submit an Interlibrary Loan request for the material.

Conference papers and proceedings can be challenging to find because they may take several years to be published or may not be published at all. They can be published in various formats including books, abstracts, and journal articles; and, they may be deposited only in an author or institutional repository.

Some Library databases, like ProQuest, make it easier to search for these types of documents by allowing you to limit your search to Source type. Other databases that provide conference proceedings include IEEE Xplore, ACM Digital Library, LearnTechLib, CINAHL, and ERIC. These databases are available from the A-Z Databases page.

ProQuest Advanced Search screen with "Conference Papers & Proceedings" selected under Source type.

Previously published dissertations and theses can be a great source of inspiration for your own dissertation topic. You can access millions of full-text dissertations and theses from NCU Library. Go to the Library’s Dissertation Resources page to see a list of databases. You can specifically access dissertations from Northcentral University alumni in the Dissertations database. Or you can explore the 1.2 million full-text dissertations available through ProQuest Dissertations and Theses.

For additional information and resources, see the Finding Dissertations Guide.

Government documents are an important primary source of information on a wide range of issues. Most government documents can be found through official government websites.

Research reports contain the results of research projects, investigations, and surveys, and are usually published by the funder or the body undertaking the research. They can be found by searching the websites of subject associations and research organizations in addition to NCU Library’s databases.

For example, you may limit your Roadrunner Search results to reports by using the limiters on the left-hand side of your results screen.

Screenshot of the publication limiter in Roadrunner Search.


Screenshot fhte Source Types limiter in Roadrunner Search.

Social media and other Web 2.0 applications have become a valuable medium for for experts, governments and academics to publish new information and analysis outside of the traditional publishing arrangement. These sites may be useful as a way to disseminate information/results, follow experts and trending topics, and as a forum for exchange of ideas.

For a thorough overview of Web 2.0 grey literature sources, please see the Grey Literature: Grey 2.0 Guide from New York University.

Grey Literature Repositories

Grey literature repositories are curated collections of grey literature sources. You can use these collections to search or browse for resources for use in your research.


There are a couple of Google custom searches that narrow your results to a specific type of organizational website. This may be helpful step when searching for grey literature. Enter your search terms into these pre-built basic search boxes to see your filtered results.

Google allows you to limit your search results to a particular domain (e.g., .edu, or .gov). This can be particularly helpful if you are looking for grey literature as you are more likely to find reliable content from organizations rather than commercial content.

Look for the "site or domain" box in Google's Advanced Search options and enter the domain you'd like to search, as shown below.

Google Advanced Search screenshot with the site or domain field highlighted.


You can also do this by adding (or .org, .gov, etc) to the end of your search terms in any Google search box. For example, to find articles about “ethical leadership” published on government websites, enter the terms "ethical leadership", as shown below.


Screenshot of Google search box with search "ethical leadership"

Google also allows you to search for results with a specific file type (example: .pdf, .doc, .ppt, .xls). This is also helpful when looking for grey literature as government and organizational reports are more likely to be available as PDF or Word documents. Datasets may be provided as Excel files.

Look for the "file type" box in Google's Advanced Search options and select the file type you would like to search, as shown below.


You can also do this by adding filetype:pdf (or .doc, .ppt, .xls, etc.) to the end of your search terms in any Google search box. For example, to find PDF documents about “ethical leadership” enter the terms "ethical leadership" filetype:pdf, as shown below.

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