Gray literature: what is it, characteristics, works and representative authors


What is gray literature?

We speak of gray literature to refer to texts considered unconventional that are not disseminated through commercial publishing channels. Also known as non-conventional literature or invisible literature, they are texts with an important production limitation that are not subject to a particular editorial control.

What is gray literature

It is one of the most difficult types of literature to define, however, the most accepted notion is that of literature that is both complex to identify and also complex to obtain, at least, as mentioned, through ordinary publication channels. That is why it has a very particular short format in which there is partial or no advertising and whose publishing standards can easily vary.

Emergence of gray literature

The term is considered to have arisen towards the end of the 19th century within the European trends in order to refer to this type of documents, in many cases the product of processes of evaluation, analysis, research, etc. However, it gained special popularity in the 1970s, when it began to be used to a greater extent.

The massive use of the Internet has been one of the determining factors for the replacement of the term “gray literature” today. Thus, the characteristics of a document text have been established, to divide them and use the term gray documentation, or also primitively called gray information. This has been done in order not to include the term literature, which for years has tried to be identified and to which these documents do not seem to be directly related.

Development of gray literature

Being one of the most complex types of literature to classify, some experts have attributed certain types of texts to this modality. However, there are also others in opposition who put in their justification what can be and what is not literature. Among the former, gray literature tends to include documents, reports, projects, reviews, technical studies, translations, theses, studies, regulations, among other types of texts in fields such as business, education, social, etc.

The most important characteristics of gray literature

The following are some of the characteristics that can be identified with respect to this type of non-conventional literature. Among them we find the following:

Undefined subject matter

The identification and classification of literary texts is often facilitated because they have a specific theme that facilitates this division. However, in the case of gray literature it is not possible to speak of a specific characteristic in relation to a specific theme.

characteristics of gray literature

Target Audience

Many experts have considered this to be a type of literature that is designed for a highly restricted audience. In many cases we are talking about a gray literature that is aimed at a particular group, which could be one of the reasons why it is not distributed openly. This implies that it has a very limited circulation in terms of the environments to which it is addressed.

Means of distribution

One of the most important aspects of this type of literature has to do with the fact that it is not distributed through conventional media. This, however, implies a difficulty in accessing them. Some possible channels to access them are the databases of educational institutions, as well as other types of institutions that host this type of information, government agencies, institutions on gray literature such as the National Technical Information Service of the United States, among others.

Variety of names

With the intention of defining this type of texts, many denominations emerged, among them: informal literature, unconventional literature, invisible literature, semi-published literature, minor literature, report literature, until it finally adopted the name of gray literature.

To learn more about other types of literature that have taken place throughout history, continue browsing our Literature section, where you can find much more information about their historical stages in movements and avant-garde, as well as literature by country or region, and more.