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Grey Literature and Other Sources: Conferences

An overview of key search strategies to locate grey literature, informal or unpublished material. Provides sources and instructions on reporting requirements for systematic reviews.

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Why search for conferences?

Conference abstracts and proceedings can potentially point you to relevant trials and research, identify the latest research trends, and provide useful information not reported elsewhere.


'Over one-half of trials reported in conference abstracts never reach full publication (Diezel et al 1999, Scherer et al 2018) and those that are eventually published in full have been shown to have results that are systematically different from those that are never published in full (Scherer et al 2018)... It is, therefore, important to try to identify possibly relevant studies reported in conference abstracts...'

- Ch. 4, 1.3.3  Conference abstracts and proceedings

Finding conferences, abstracts and proceedings

When you are developing your search strategy for conference materials, remember that you will need to record and report how you searched, where you searched, and what you found.

See the table below for some tips on finding conference materials.

Search tips Examples

If you know the name of the conference:

  • try a web search for the conference website.

"International Congress of Immunology" conference 2016

If you know the name of the host organisation:

  • search the organisation's website.
 

If you don't know any relevant conferences:

  • try a web search for events in your discipline.
"biomedical engineering" conferences

If you can't find any conferences:

  • expand you search to include alternative terms.
conference  /  meeting  /  symposium  /  seminar   /  colloquia   /  congress  /  convention  /  roundtable

If you are searching in databases or portals:

  • use search filters to limit your results by format.
 

Searching for older material

Conference material can be challenging to locate, as conference websites are often decommissioned after a period of time. To locate older conference material, try using the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine. The Wayback Machine provides access to more than billions of web pages saved at different points in time, allowing you to find and view webpages that are no longer available. If the conference was held in Australia or related to Australia in some way, you could also search the National Library of Australia's Trove for archived web pages.

Many Library databases index conference papers, including those linked below. For those that cover varied publication types, there are usually limits you can select such as 'Conference Paper' if you want to find these only.

Many organisations, institutes and professional associations/societies hold conferences and make content available online. You can search for these by running a web search on the organisation or conference name.

You can also explore external catalogues and portals, for example:

Guidelines and standards

'If journals or conference proceedings were consulted, specify the names of each source, the dates covered and how they were searched (such as handsearching or browsing online).' - PRISMA 2020 Explanation and Elaboration, p. 6

Further reading