Grey literature - part II

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Last Update

  • Updated.jpg 12 September 2016


See also Evidence-based public health | Expert searching | Grey literature searching in medicine | Grey literature | Snowballing

  • This entry is a continuation of grey literature but focuses on where across hundreds of different websites and databases, grey literature can be found.
  • According to Dominic Farace, Director at GreyNet International: "...Grey literature has over the past half-century been identified by a number of terms and concepts. For example, non-conventional, unconventional, or non-commercial literature. These are accepted but limited descriptors. Other examples that are less accepted and rather off-the-mark are terms such as ephemera, fugitive or non-published literature. For many years, attention was only placed on the demand-side for grey literature and not on the supply or production side. Since the launch of the International Conference Series on Grey Literature in 1993, the results of research in this field of library and information science has contributed to a fuller understanding of the production, publication, open access, as well as uses and applications of grey literature. Likewise, the misnomer that grey literature was but the antipathy of commercial literature needed to be addressed and corrected. This could only be achieved on a more level playing field. Grey literature stood much to gain from the methods of commercial publishing, while commercial publishing stood to gain from the richness and diversity found in grey literature. This richness and diversity can be seen by the hundreds of document types in which it is published both in print and electronic formats. It can also be viewed by the range of corporate authors (organizations in government, academics, business and industry) that publish it; and by the wide range of professional, scientific, and technical communities that contribute to its research, authorship, and review. Where once grey literature circulated primarily within communities and networks of interested professionals, now – owing to the internet and open access policies – grey literature is today accessible to net-citizens i.e. the broader public... "

Institutional repositories, preprints, etc.

Here are a few websites hosting preprints, or e-prints, etc.

European grey literature websites

Self-archived articles

Even though faculty members and researchers voluntarily self-archive their works, this material is frequently difficult to locate. What are the reasons for poor findability of self-archived material?

  1. most academic environments do not require mandatory archiving for faculty, which means that most repositories miss much of the scholarly outputs produced by the institution;
  2. some faculty feel that they are too busy to comply with self-archiving guidelines; and
  3. there is a lack of knowledge about how to self-archive and find these publications;
  4. search engines like Google scholar and Yahoo do not systematically provide access to self-archived copies;

Impact of open access/ open searching

Trends in digitization and open access have given rise to institutional repositories. IRs collect and preserve published and unpublished information (e.g. lectures, data sets, research papers, electronic theses) and provide free access to all kinds of scholarly materials. IRs have the potential to promote change in scholarly publishing, and are linked to the open access movement. For further background reading, see the Berlin Declaration on Open Access and the Open Access Initiative. See also open search.

Grey literature retrieval in mainstream databases

A few examples:

Other places to find dissertations

Methods of finding grey literature

  • Database searching (including specialized databases and search portals)
  • Searching in obscure or small library catalogues
  • Hand-searching of journals
  • Personal communication (i.e. telephone, email, etc.)
  • Scanning reference lists 'snowballing', bibliographies and academic CVs
  • Googling (Google, Google scholar, Scirus)
  • Other search engines including Yahoo, Bing and Windows Live Academic Search
  • Blogging (finding the experts)
  • Blogsearch, podsearch, specialized directories
  • Wikis

Scoping your search

Scoping searches are undertaken in a small range of major databases like the Cochrane Library, MEDLINE, CINAHL, Google scholar and PsycINFO. Health librarians often go through a refining process and a full range of possible information sources. Full searches aimed at retrieving a maximum number of relevant studies begin. The scoping process is iterative and helps to estimate the size of the literature in question, and the cost of searching it. Many interdisciplinary search topics increase the likelihood of an time-consuming and expensive search process.

Identifying key, searchable sources of information is a process that varies depending on the research question. New tools and searching approaches are launched daily, but searching for the systematic review requires a lot of search trend tracking. Searching the top five or ten biomedical databases is not by any means an exhaustive list; additional resources should be identified, particularly non-English language materials. Some sources and methods of searching are well developed and stable, but search tools hidden in the deep web are not.

  • Currency of topic / subject area

Is your topic current? A cutting-edge subject area? Is it Canadian? Of local interest? If your topic is about HIV incidence on Vancouver's eastside, this will limit the sources of information available to you. Geographic and national restrictions, public safety and intellectual property laws will limit access to certain types of information. A barrier to identifying and accessing some GL topics is a lack of familiarity with the subject, its indexing practices and search tools. It may be necessary to learn more about a subject as well as how to find it.

  • Formats

Are you seeking bibliographic references with immediate full-text; primary sources (raw clinical data, documents, publications); secondary sources (analysis, editorials); tertiary sources (EBM summaries, large reviews, digests); or comparable and/or comparative data and information?

  • Subject-based approach

Identify possible medical sources of information (databases, websites, experts) and, for interdisciplinary topics, tools in the related area (business, economics, engineering). It might be helpful to develop an understanding of your topic using a hierarchical approach.

The information needed about your subject may include social, economic, political, psychological, legal and ethical perspectives, which may be influenced by identifiable groups and groupings. Gender, age, disease or condition are/ may be important. Ethnic, religious, cultural issues may also be pertinent.

Building search strategies / checklists

A well-organized checklist and search strategy helps to maintain focus and direction in your searching. Many librarians have developed search optimization protocols and checklists to help build strategies. Bidwell and Booth have created protocols that are useful in documentation. <> The Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health (CADTH) - formerly CCOHTA- and other health technology assessment agencies such as AHFMR have developed comprehensive checklists for grey literature searching.

When building search strategies, select terms specifically for each source. In consulting mainstream databases or Google, it is advisable to list keywords and variations prior to starting the search. Be consistent and systematic throughout the process and use the same keywords. It is important to create a strategy, compile a list of keywords, wildcard combinations and identify key organizations.

Tips and tricks on building a search strategy and checklist

  1. Construct a checklist with tables from left to right
  2. Indicate all databases searched
  3. List all web-sites with affiliated organizations & web addresses consulted
  4. Formulate a search strategy, and modify as necessary
  5. Note when (date) the search was conducted
  6. Use comments column to note when the database/website was updated

List databases in priority order

  1. MEDLINE, EMBASE, CINAHL, PsycINFO, Web of Science.
  2. Where controlled terms are used, record them, qualifiers, keywords, truncation, wildcards.
  3. Recall increases when searching by keywords. Improve precision by searching in titles only.
  4. Record when 0 hits are obtained. Compare the hits in the other databases searched.
  5. Check variant spellings and make note of differences in Canadian, American or British English.
  6. Save long search sets using MyNCBI in PubMed or OVID's saved searches feature.
  7. Import citations into a bibliographic management program.

Documenting searches

Grey literature is increasingly referenced in scholarly research. Knowing how to find greylit is critical in scoping searches, literature reviews, and doing searches for graduate theses and doctoral dissertations. However, searchers often fail to develop sound, structured approaches to finding GL and spend inordinate amounts of time re-doing searches.

Major abstracting & indexing (A&I) services index do not systematically index GL. Even when databases index, there are no guarantees searchers will find all articles on a topic. To compensate for the limits of human indexing, hand searching can supplement online methods. Hand searching is recommended for systematic reviews (SRs) because of the hazards associated with not locating all studies.

Tips on documentation

  • Document your steps so that your progress can be tracked.
  • Consider bibliographic management software like EndNote or Ref Works to assist in building your grey lit database.
  • Documentation should include the organizations/individuals contacted.

An important reason to document your search is reproducibility. If called upon to reproduce your search results, you can do so by using your strategy and documentation that was painstakingly developed.

Part III

See Acupuncture case study


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