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Grey Literature and Other Sources: Record and report

An overview of key search strategies to locate grey literature, informal or unpublished material.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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Recording your search

When undertaking a systematic review, your protocol should document all planned sources of information.

When searching, record what you do from the start. This is important to ensure that you can meet the requirements of reporting standards such as PRISMA, and so that your search can be reproduced later.

What to record

"Specify all databases, registers, websites, organisations, reference lists and other sources searched or consulted to identify studies. Specify the date when each source was last searched or consulted... Present the full search strategies for all databases, registers and websites, including any filters and limits used."   

-- PRISMA 2020 statement

" locally or file print copies of any information found on the internet, such as information about ongoing and/or unpublished trials, as this information may no longer be accessible at the time the review is written."   

-- Cochrane Handbook - 4.5 Documenting and reporting the search process

Keep track of how you search using a spreadsheet or table. You should include:

  • your search strategy;
  • search tools used;
  • websites searched;
  • dates they were searched; 
  • time frame covered.

Guidelines and standards

'Describe all intended information sources (such as electronic databases, contact with study authors, trial registers or other grey literature sources) with planned dates of coverage' - PRISMA-P (2015), p. 9

Reporting tools

Reporting what you do for both your published (black) literature search, and your grey literature search is important. The following tools can help you do this.