State-of-the-evidence reviews: advantages and challenges of including grey literature

Worldviews Evid Based Nurs. 2006;3(2):55-61. doi: 10.1111/j.1741-6787.2006.00051.x.


Background: Increasingly, health policy decision-makers and professionals are turning to research-based evidence to support decisions about policy and practice. Systematic reviews are useful for gathering, summarizing, and synthesizing published and unpublished research about clearly defined interventions. State-of-the-evidence reviews are broader than traditional systematic reviews and may include not only published and unpublished research, but also published and unpublished non-research literature. Decisions about whether to include this "grey literature" in a review are challenging and lead to many questions about whether the advantages outweigh the challenges.

Aims: The primary purpose of this article is to describe what constitutes grey literature, and methods to locate it and assess its quality. The secondary purpose is to discuss the core issues to consider when making decisions to include grey literature in a state-of-the-evidence review.

Methods: A recent state-of-the-evidence review is used as an exemplar to present advantages and challenges related to including grey literature in a review.

Results: Despite the challenges, in the exemplar, inclusion of grey literature was useful to validate the results of a research-based literature search.

Conclusion: Decisions about whether to include grey literature in a state-of-the-evidence review are complex. A checklist to assist in decision-making was created as a tool to assist the researcher in determining whether it is advantageous to include grey literature in a review.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Decision Making
  • Evidence-Based Medicine / methods*
  • Female
  • Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders / therapy
  • Humans
  • Information Storage and Retrieval
  • Nursing Research / methods
  • Pregnancy
  • Review Literature as Topic*