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A general guide to doing business research

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Pamela Contakos
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Questions to Ask Before You Start Your Research

This guide is intended for MCLA students who are conducting company and industry research, and who wish to learn more about the resources that are available through the library. Below are questions to ask before beginning your research, that will help you identify where to look for certain information and allow you to get a idea of what information is (and is not) going to be available.

side arrow iconUse the blue tabs on the left to navigate through the different research areas and business topics available in this guide. When you click on a tab, you will notice that the different sections of the page will appear nested under it in grey. You can either click on these to jump to a specific part of the page, or simply scroll down to look at all of the available resources.

Questions to Ask: Company Research

  • What is the complete, official name of the company? Are there possible variations in the name? Do you have the correct spelling?  Many companies are known by a popular name or a trade name which is different from their official name. Most resources will list companies only by their official name. Be aware of companies which are named after an individual. First names (e.g. Walt Disney Company) or initials (e.g. H. J. Heinz) may be part of the official name. Furthermore, a resource may either include or ignore first names and initials when entering and alphabetizing, and some resources are inconsistent. Also, initials can be alphabetized in different manners. Be prepared with spelling variations, even when you feel you are certain of the spelling.
  • Is it a publicly-held or privately-held company?  A publicly-held company is one that openly sells stock to the public on a stock exchange. Those who purchase the stock have an ownership interest in the company. Because of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission regulations, a wealth of information is available for public companies. This same level of detail of information does not exist for private companies. Many resources will only include public companies.   Is it a relatively large or well-known company?  Certain resources have size restrictions as to which companies are included. Thus, the larger the company, the more likely it is to appear. The more well-known the company, the easier it will be to find information on the company.
  • Is it a subsidiary? If so, what is the name of the parent company?  In some cases, published information may be available only on the parent company.  
  • Would a company want its competitors to know this information? Depending on the type of information you are looking for, keep in mind that the company may not make the information available due to fear of competition, and some answers may cross into the realm of proprietary information or trade secrets.
  • Have there been recent and/or noteworthy activities involving the company that would have been covered in newspaper, magazine or other periodical articles?  If so, be sure to check business news sources. You'll get information on recent activities, and you may also find that the articles provide good background information on the company.
  • What level of detail is needed?  Databases that provide excellent details on a company's finances may not be the quickest source for merely finding a phone number and address or even a brief profile.

Questions to Ask: Industry Research

  • Is there more than one way to describe the industry? Different resources may describe industries in different manners. While some resources may discuss an industry in broad terms, others may focus on more specific portions of that industry. For example, you may need to retrieve information on the retail industry, department stores, variety stores, or discount department stores depending upon the source used.
  • What Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) or North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) code(s) identify the industry? SIC/NAICS Codes are used in many directories and industry resources to provide a more consistent manner of identifying industries.
  • What level of detail is needed regarding the industry? Do you need a brief overview or a more in-depth analysis of the industy? Different databases will delve into greater specificity than others, be on the lookout for detailed industry profiles.

Where Are You?

Even when you're off-campus, you still have access to all of the online library resources found in this guide. EZProxy, the library's system, will simply detect when you need to log in, and will prompt you to do so with >your MCLA account credentials. If you are having issues connecting use our Help page


Thank you to Alice Kalinowski for her permission to adapt her Doing Business Research @ Pitt guide.