Science and Technology: Grey Literature

From technical reports to preprints, grey literature can be found across science and technology areas.

DocuTicker "collects abstracts of grey literature: PDF reports published by government agencies, think tanks, NGOs, research Institutes and other public interest groups. Keep in mind that this contains many documents that originated in the UK. However, it will give you a feel for the wide range of grey literature being generated.

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Go to DocuTicker. Scan a few of the recent postings. Go to the DocuBase for each of the following categories within social science: Biology, Chemistry, Health and Healthcare, Industries, Physics, Science, and Technology. What types of documents are included? What value do you see in this website for keeping up to date on grey literature?

Read Joseph, Lura E. (Summer 2014). Image quality in University of Illinois digital geology dissertations from ProQuest. Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship. Available: http://www.istl.org/14-summer/refereed5.html

In the United States, the gray literature of science and technology is indexed in the NTIS database or at SciTechConnect.

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Go to NTIS and SciTechConnect. Explore the various types of information available. How are the grey literature types available alike and different? Share three types of grey literature you found. List one document you found particularly interesting.

Users of Grey Literature

From high-energy physicists to health care workers, a wide range of library clients use grey literature.

According to Anne Gentil-Beccot (2010, 155),

“if grey literature (GL) is often seen as a marginal part of the scientific information landscape, this is absolutely not true for high-energy physicists (HEP) who developed, decades ago, their own scientific communication scheme using this allegedly ‘darker”’fraction of literature. Today, grey literature remains a living and indispensable resource for this discipline. What is more, grey literature has become a driving force, motivating many evolutions in the HEP information landscape.”

Gentil-Beccott (2010) notes that high-energy physicists are very collaborative and have been advocates for freely accessible documents for a long time. Back in 1991, arXiv was launched as a preprint repository providing “an easy and less restricted way to access and disseminate information, by removing the cost-barrier of mass mailing preprints all over the world” (Gentil-Beccott, 2010, 157). Because information in the discipline emerges very quickly, it’s important that information is available in a timely way. On the other hand, it’s also critical that the research be peer-reviewed. This grey literature environment feeds the six primary scholarly journals.

According to a AcademyHealth (2006) survey, grey literature is important in the following areas of health care: access to care, cost containment, gerontology, infectious disease, long-term care, managed care, maternal & child health, medicaid, medicare, mental health, minority health, pharmaceauticals & emerging technologies, private instudent markets, and public health. AcademyHealth (2006 found that of the many types of grey literature, the following were the more frequently used: working papers, testimony, committee reports, and conference proceedings. They identified the most common audience for grey literature as "policymakers, reporters, federal and state agencies, foundations, researchers and grantees" (AcademyHealth, 2006).

Grey Literature Specific to Science and Technology

Some types of grey literature have particular meaning within a discipline. Science and technology has a few of these types of documents.


Briefs are used in different ways depending on the discipline.


General Data Sets

Topical Data Sets

Read Thompson, Cheryl A. , Roberton, W. Davenport, & Greenberg, Jane (November 2014). Where have all the scientific data gone? LIS perspective on the data-at-risk predicament. College & Research Libraries, 75(6), 842-861. Available: http://crl.acrl.org/content/75/6/842.full.pdf+html

Read Xia, Jingfeng & Liu, Ying (March 2013). Usage patterns of open genomic data. College & Research Libraries, 74(2), 195-207. Available: http://crl.acrl.org/content/74/2/195.full.pdf+html

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Explore some of the data sites listed. Think about the types of questions that could be addressed using data and statistics from these websites.

Papers and Reports

A wide range of scientific reports and papers are unique to science and technology. A few examples are below.

Inspection reports provide the results of an inspection. Often used for safety inspections, they provide objective evidence and a final assessment.

Scientific protocols are written procedures used in implementation of experiments. Detailed descriptions include all aspects of the experiments.

Law Reports


From pre-prints to e-prints there are many types of printing in science and technology.

Pre-prints are essential in the fields of mathematics, astronomy, biology, computer science, and other science and technology areas. It can take months for a document to complete the peer review process, so pre-prints are useful in getting time sensitive information out quickly. ArXiv.org is a repository of electronic preprints or e-prints.

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Go to ArXiv.org and explore an area of interest. Notice how the documents are organized and accessed. Browse the recent additions. List a citation for a paper you found. Describe the type of document and why you think it's found in this grey literature repository. How do you envision users making use of this database?

Reprints are re-publications of articles previously published. They are often used in science, technology, and medical journals as part of awareness campaigns. For instance, they may be distributed to physicians, consumers, or investors. The content may be original, but it might also be customized for the audience, translated into another language, or shared in a digital form.


Standards are found across scientific and technical fields. While many resellers sell standards documents, those associated with government standards should be available online for free. Standards may relate to professional qualifications, safety practices, product guidelines and many other areas of professional practice.

A standards organization is a group whose primary activities involve coordinating standards. The American National Standards Institute provides a directory of Standards Development Organizations. This website provides information about each organization, the scope of their standards activities, and links to their website and often their standards.

Wikipedia has an excellent list of technical standards organizations.

For government standards programs, go to the website of the particular area of interest:

The International Organization for Standards publishes standards across disciplines. Although this is a subscription-based platform, it's possible to see the bibliographies. In many cases, you can use these citations to help locate key standards. For general resources, go to:

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Browse one of the standards groups above.

Technical Papers and Reports

Technical reports are an important source of information in science and technology. Technical documentation, notes, papers, and reports are all examples.

A technical report (also known as a scientific reports) provides a structured presentation of processes, procedures, progress and sometimes results and conclusions of a technical activity or scientific research project. They are generally organized using the IMRAD organizational structure: Introduction, Methods, Results, And Discussion. These reports are not generally peer-reviewed prior to publication.

According to Brown (2014, 155),

"technical reports are challenging for a number of reasons. 1) The sheer number of reports is mind-boggling. 2) Often referred to as "gray literature," many technical reports were not issued through the FDLP and are considered 'nondepository' materials. As such, they are likely to be held in only the largest and most specialized depositories, libraries that agressively seek out such reports on their own. 3) In the online environment, many technical reports are buried in the 'hidden Internet' (also known as the deep or invisible Web). Thus, direct Web searches may not retrieve these documents. The research needs to monitor government technical report servers."

The National Technical Information Service (NTIS) from US Department of Commerceindexes governmental technical reports. Their database is freely available but many of their materials aren't available online. TRAIL (Technical Report Archive and Image Library) contains resources prior to 1975. In addition, many technical reports are being archived through HathiTrust.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology from US Department of Commerce houses standards and other resources along with many reports.

Many of the agencies maintain their own server containing technical reports. Some examples include:

Clinical trials involve a wide range of technical papers and reports.

Scenario Stumper
I'm got diabetes and I'd like to know if there are clinical trials on any new drugs going on near where I live.
The U.S. National Institutes of Health has a site called ClinicalTrials.gov. You can read the results of recent studies and find out what trials are going right now.
The Bottom Line... Yes! We can search for clincial trials near you by both topic and location.

Subscription-based Databases for Technical Reports

SAE Technical Papers. SAE Technical Papers are written and peer-reviewed by experts in the automotive, aerospace, and commercial vehicle industries. The library’s subscription gives access to more than 92,000 technical papers on the latest advances in technical research and applied technical engineering information. Available through IUPUI.

SPIE Digital Library. Provides the most extensive resource available on optics and photonics, providing unprecedented access to more than 300,000 technical papers from SPIE Journals and Conference Proceedings from 1990 to the present. Available through IUPUI.

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Compare two subscription services that focus on technical reports including SAE Technical Papers and SPIE Digital Library. Share three situations when these types of reports would be useful. Provide examples.

Read Von Hendy, Matthew (May/June 2014). Fifty shades of scientific and technical grey literature. Information Today, 38(3).

LibGuide on Grey Literature

For more ideas, explore a few of the following LibGuides focusing on grey literature in science and technology.

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Explore LibGuides. Notice how they organize grey literature.
Create your own "best of grey" list of information sources in a specific area of science and technology.

Repositories in Science and Technology

Repositories are an important source of grey literature in science and technology.

Repositories by Subject Matter


Environmental Sciences

Geo Sciences

Health Care and Medicine

Life Sciences

Mathematics and Computer Science

Physical Science

Institutional Repositories

Institutional repositories have become a popular home for grey literature. Some examples are provided below:

Links to Institutional Repositories

National Laboratories

Most documents are also available at U.S. Department of Energy.

Scenario Stumpers
I was at a conference and someone was talking about a new report on Linux container orchestration that just came out in 2015. I think I'd recognize the name of the author, but I can't remember it off the top of my head. It's not in a journal, it's a report from one of the national labs.
After searching the national laboratory publications, I think I found it at the Argonne National Laboratory.
The Bottom Line... Is it Container Orchestration for Scientific Workflows by W. Gerlach, W. Tang, and A. Wilke?

try itTry It!
Explore the institutional repositories above. Then, do a Google search for more such as science institutional repository or chemistry institutional repository. Compare the types of materials that are found in these repositories. How are they alike and different? List a repository you located, the URL, and few examples of the types of information sources located in the repository.


AcademyHealth (February 2006). Health Services Research and Health Policy Grey Literature: Summary Report. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Available: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/nichsr/greylitreport_06.html

Gentil-Beccot, Anne (2010). The driving and evolving role of grey literature in high-energy physics. In D. Farce & J. Schopfel, Grey Literature in Library and Information Studies. Walter De Gruyter. Available: http://site.ebrary.com.proxy2.ulib.iupui.edu/lib/iupui/detail.action?docID=10424435


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