Using Grey Literature in the Human Services

Perspectives of Australian Research End Users


  • Mark Hughes Southern Cross University
  • Clare Tilbury Griffith University
  • Christine Bigby La Trobe University
  • Mike Fisher Tilda Goldberg Centre for Social Work and Social Care, University of Bedfordshire


Grey literature, Social work research, Research engagement, Research impact


Human services workers need up-to-date, quality research to inform their work in practice, management, education, policy, and advocacy. While some research end users read peer-reviewed journal articles, many also rely on research-based grey literature in the form of print and online materials, which may not be subject to scholarly peer review. This may include commissioned research reports, conference papers, policy documents, and research summaries. The aim of this study was to understand how research end users accessed research knowledge and the benefits and challenges related to different knowledge sources, including grey literature. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 43 research end users in child protection, disability, and aged care services. Participants indicated that they used an array of grey literature for reasons such as difficulties accessing academic journals, wanting to read more digestible research, and to source lived experience or culturally appropriate knowledge. Grey literature provides a valuable source of research knowledge, but uncertainty about its quality means research end users should be mindful of its limitations. Producers of grey literature should ensure that it distils messages for policy, practice, and the delivery of human services based on sound research. 

Author Biographies

Mark Hughes, Southern Cross University

School of Arts and Social Sciences, Southern Cross University, Locked Mail Bag 4, Coolangatta, QLD 4225, Australia 

Clare Tilbury, Griffith University

School of Human Services and Social Work, Griffith University, Logan campus, Meadowbrook, QLD 4131, Australia 

Christine Bigby, La Trobe University

Living with Disability Research Centre, La Trobe University, Bundoora VIC 3086, Australia 

Mike Fisher, Tilda Goldberg Centre for Social Work and Social Care, University of Bedfordshire

Tilda Goldberg Centre for Social Work and Social Care, University of Bedfordshire, University Square, Luton LU1 3JU, England 


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