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Public Health

Guide to library research for evidence-informed public health practice.

Article Spotlight

Supplementary search methods were more effective and offered better value than bibliographic database searching: A case study from public health and environmental enhancement. Res Synth Methods. 2018. Available here.

Searching and synthesising ‘grey literature’ and ‘grey information’ in public health: critical reflections on three case studies. Sys Rev. 2016. Available here.

Introduction

What is grey literature?

Grey literature is the term used to describe literature that is not formally published as a book or journal article (Higgins, 2011), including:

  • conference proceedings
  • preprints
  • dissertations and theses
  • governmental or private sector research
  • ongoing or unpublished clinical trial data
  • statistical publications
  • internal reports or working papers
  • technical reports

Related library guides:

In addition to the grey literature resources listed below, there are related library guides on: Finding Theses and Dissertations and Government Information (Health). The Public Health library guide has a page on grey literature with additional sources to search as well.

Grey Literature in Public Health

Research articles about public health and grey literature:

  • "Public health researchers may want to include ‘grey literature’ in evidence syntheses for at least three reasons.
  1. Including grey literature can reduce the impact of publication bias as studies with null findings are less likely to be published in peer-reviewed journals.
  2. Grey literature can provide useful contextual information on how, why, and in whom complex public health interventions are effective.
  3. Syntheses of grey literature can help applied researchers and practitioners understand what interventions exist for a particular problem, the full range of evaluations (if any) that have been conducted, and where further intervention development and evaluation is needed." 

From: ‚ÄčAdams, J., Hillier-Brown, F. C., Moore, H. J., Lake, A. A., Araujo-Soares, V., White, M., & Summerbell, C. (2016). Searching and synthesising ‘grey literature’ and ‘grey information’ in public health: critical reflections on three case studies. Systematic Reviews, 5(1), 164.

  • "Reliance on grey literature may also be rooted in the unique information needs that are not met by traditional published articles (e.g., data and statistics, evaluations of existing community programs, organizational recommendations, etc.)."

From: Hunt, S. L., & Bakker, C. J. (2018). A qualitative analysis of the information science needs of public health researchers in an academic settingJournal of the Medical Library Association: JMLA106(2), 184.

Grey Literature Resources

Some library databases contain grey literature in addition to journal articles. For example, Web of Science and Embase contain conference proceedings, and PsycINFO contains dissertations. Since library databases do not generally provide comprehensive coverage of grey literature, other resources can be searched to identify literature that is not formally published as well.

Below are a number of grey literature resources that may be useful for public health topics. Additionally, the Ontario Public Health Libraries Association has complied a comprehensive list of Public Health Grey Literature Sources.

Clinical Trials Registries

For quantitative systematic reviews of healthcare interventions, it is strongly recommended to search clinical trial registries for on-going and unpublished trials in order to limit publication bias. 

Bibliography

Adams, J., Hillier-Brown, F. C., Moore, H. J., Lake, A. A., Araujo-Soares, V., White, M., & Summerbell, C. (2016). Searching and synthesising ‘grey literature’and ‘grey information’in public health: critical reflections on three case studies. Systematic reviews, 5(1), 164.

Cooper, C., Lovell, R., Husk, K., Booth, A., & Garside, R. (2018). Supplementary search methods were more effective and offered better value than bibliographic database searching: A case study from public health and environmental enhancement. Research synthesis methods, 9(2), 195-223.

Higgins, J.P.T. & Green, S. (Eds.). (2011). Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions Version 5.1.0 [updated March 2011]. The Cochrane Collaboration. Available from www.handbook.cochrane.org.