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ENGL 417 - Written Communication for the Workplace

This guide contains resources and learning advice commonly needed for written communication in the workplace.

Library Research Guide

Overview of Grey Literature and White Papers

Grey literature (also spelled gray literature) is literature that is not available through the usual bibliographic sources such as databases or indexes. It can be both in print and, increasingly, electronic formats. Gray literature is produced by government agencies, universities, corporations, research centers, associations and societies, and professional organizations.

Examples of publications that are considered to be grey literature.
Fact Sheets Government Documents Committee Reports Public Policy Reports
Standards Technical Documentation Bulletins White papers
Patents Technical Reports Symposia Working papers
Business documents Conference proceedings Pre-prints Unpublished works

 

White papers is the term commonly applied to publications in business and industry, usually featuring research or detailed product reports.

The two terms, grey literature and white papers, are sometimes used interchangeably. Common features include:

  • not formally published; therefore, usually not available in library databases, which typically include published sources like journals and books;
  • often free and posted on the organization's website; older reports may be taken down and difficult to locate;
  • may be described in a press release as "a recent report from...";
  • not peer reviewed and may be biased because they are representing the views and objectives of the organization that produced it;
  • may provide valuable schematics, in-depth product details, consumer information, or industry data.

Searching for Grey Literature and White Papers

Search for a Known Report

1. If the title of the report is known (you've seen it in a bibliography or a press release), Google the title. Often, placing the title in quotation marks increases the likelihood that the report you want will rise to the top of your search results.

2. If you know what organization issued the white report, but don't know the exact title, Google the topic of the report and the organization's name. OR do a site search in Google. Use this syntax to perform a site search using Google:

 site:companywebsite.com report topic

 

Search for Reports on a Topic

1. Many reports are published as PDFs, adding PDF to your Google search can narrow your results to these reports. 

2. Professional organizations may produce white papers on trending issues for their members.

White Paper Clearinghouses

These websites collect or link to white papers on specific topics.

Business and Industry

Technical Reports

Public Policy Reports

Examples of Organizations that Publish White Papers and Grey Literature

NGO's Non-governmental Organizations

Corporations

Evaluating White Papers and Grey Literature

White papers are a valuable source of industry and public policy information. However, you must approach the information in the reports as critically as you would other sources of information. When reading a white paper, try to identify the following pieces of information and ask yourself how that could impact the relevance and accuracy of the report.

  • Funding - who paid for the report's research? Are they trying to sell something (industry)? Do they have a social or political agenda (public policy)? Do they have a defined mission/objective (non-governmental organization)? Are they required to perform and publish research by law (government agency)?
  • Age - how old is the white paper? While newer reports are more likely to account for changes in industry practices or laws, older reports may provide pertinent background information or technical specs for older products and practices.
  • Expertise - what makes the report researchers and/or writers experts on the topic?