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CRJU 3300: Juvenile Justice Subsystems: Non-academic sources

Introduction to non-academic sources

Non-academic sources (sometimes called "gray literature") are published by organizations and agencies outside of traditional commercial or academic publishers. Many of these sources are published via organization or agency web sites and are available to anyone with an internet connection.

Types of non-academic sources

Some common types of non-academic sources are:

  • reports published by a variety of agencies (government) and organizations (non profits, think tanks, policy institutes, etc.)
    • annual reports, technical reports, research reports, and more
  • data or statistics
  • policy briefs
  • white papers or working papers

Characteristics of non-academic sources

  • Faster to publish
  • Cheaper to access
  • More accessible language and writing style
  • More diverse viewpoints
  • More plentiful, especially on niche subjects

Credit: Why use grey literature? University of Illinois Libraries

Select and combine keywords for your search

Combine main concepts as keywords

Select keywords that describe your research topic and combine them with words that describe the population


"restorative justice" AND juvenile

"drug courts" AND juvenile

Refine your search

If your results do not already include reports, data, statistics, papers or briefs, add these keywords to your existing search.


"restorative justice" AND juvenile AND (data OR statistics OR report OR paper OR brief)

"drug courts" AND juvenile AND (data OR statistics)


Where to search for non-academic sources

Reports, papers, data, statistics, policy briefs, etc. are all likely to be published by the organizations or agencies that produce them on their own websites. The most efficient way to find such sources is to use some advanced search strategies in Google.

Evaluate non-academic sources

Non-academic sources have not gone through any kind of peer or editorial review in most cases, so the "heavy lifting" of evaluation is up to the reader. See the other tabs in the box for guidance about how to evaluate these kinds of sources.

It is important to consider the organization or agency publishing the information on their site, in addition to any individual author(s) if any are named.

Summary of factors influencing credibility

Factor Definition Signals
Networks Connections, alliances, and affiliations that an organization's staff and board have Expertise and trustworthiness
Past impact Any effect the reesarch center has had on policy, practice, media, or academia Expertise
Intellectual independence and autonomy Independence on deciding their research agenda, methods, and actions Trustworthiness
Transparency Public disclosure of funding sources, agenda, affiliations, partnerships, and conflicts of interest Trustworthiness
Credentials and authority Collected expertise and qualifications that an organization and its staff have Expertise
Communications and visibility How and how often the organization communicates with its stakeholders Trustworthiness
Research quality Following research guidelines to produce policy relevant research in which the quality is assured Expertise and trustworthiness
Ideology and values Set of ideas or values that guide an organization Trustworthiness
Current context Current setting in which an organization and its stakeholders are immersed Frames the assessment and gives prominence to certain factors

Credit: Deconstructing credibility: Factors that affect a think tank's credibility by Andrea Baertl Helguero