In this guide you'll find some of our most-used resources for researching industries. Keep in mind that gathering information about an industry can be very different each time you do it. Sometimes, you may be researching a large industry, with many companies who are publicly-owned, like the auto, airline, and retail industry. In this case, you'll probably find a lot of information that you'll need to sift through. Other times, when researching small industries with just a few companies or companies that are mostly privately-owned (such as the wooden toy industry or bagged ice industry) you may need to try all of these sources to put together a picture of what's going on in the industry and how it operates.
Below are the steps for effective industry research. Each step is covered in more depth by the other pages in this guide. Click a heading to navigate to that section.
Identify the appropriate North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) and Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) codes for your industry using a combination of governmental websites and library databases. To search the databases, make a list of appropriate keywords to use when searching the databases found in this guide. You can use the searchable Thesauri available in many databases to locate the most accurate descriptors for you industry. After compiling your list of keywords, note the relevant NAICS and SIC codes.
Industry profiles provide context for understanding the detailed information you will gather in the following steps. Looking for information about an industry's competing companies, suppliers, regulations, and any external opportunities, weaknesses, and risks will help you understand the overall operation of the industry.
Learn who the industry leaders are, using the library's databases. Many of the resources here feature advanced functionality that allows you to create lists of companies, while others may offer ready-made lists based on NAICS and SIC classifications. You will also want to look for market share data, industry statistics, government filings, industry norms, and key financial ratios, as well as any other information you can use to gain an understanding of how the firms within an industry compare against one another.
Articles published in business journals, magazines, and newspapers will often provide insights into an industry and the companies that compete in it, including their strategy, performance, and competition. While many popular newspapers and magazines are publicly available and these can provide worthwhile current information, you will often need to consult the library's subscription databases to access scholarly and trade publications.
Nearly every type of business has one or more trade or professional associations to promote its interests and provide a forum to collect and share information. In addition to clues gleaned from reading through the material you gather in the previous steps, use the internet to find important industry-related websites. These trade associations and industry websites will often contain valuable information about the industry's makeup and regulations, as well as providing current news and industry reports.