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Business Writing

The resources listed throughout this guide are to help you on your assignments for ENGL 3080, but feel free to use them in your other classes

Business & Economics Librarian

Profile Photo
Jennilyn Wiley
she/her/hers
Contact:
RBD Library
231 Mell Street
Auburn University, AL 36849-5606
334-844-2715
Subjects: Business, Economics

Resources

Below are the steps for effective company research.  

1. Identify and Profile the Company

Determine whether the company is public or privately held as well as if it is a parent or subsidiary.  Gather additional background information about the company, including its history, the line of business it is in, and key personnel.  Profiles can identify major competitors and company strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats, or other important information.  Library databases are valuable sources of information here, as is the company's own website.  Be sure to closely examine all content originating from a company's website, however, because the potential for bias is present.

2. Examine the Company's Financials

Public companies are required by law to provide reports on their financial health.  These reports are accessible a number of ways, including the Security and Exchange Commission's website.  They are also available through many of the library databases which provide company information, and often on the company's website.  Current and recent stock performance is widely available online, but more in-depth coverage, as well as historical data, is more easily found using library databases.  Financial performance data for privately-held companies is often much more difficult to locate, and you may have to rely on competitor information as well as newspaper and other external reporting to estimate a private company's market performance.

For a publicly-owned company, look for an Annual Report. Produced by the company each year for their stockholders, the annual report will describe the company’s operations, financial situation, and future plans. While similar to the 10-K report required by the SEC, a company's annual report will tend to be packaged with more of a marketing-bent, with language aimed directly at current and/or potential investors.  These annual reports can often be found on the company's website under "Investor Relations".  Try these sites to locate a copy of the annual report:

3. Find Current News and Articles about the Company

Articles published in business journals, magazines, and newspapers will often provide insights into a company's operations, 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. 

4.  Survey the Industry 

You will also want to gain an understanding of the industry in which the company operates.  Industry profiles provide context for understanding the detailed information you've gathered in the previous steps.  Looking for information about a company's competitors, suppliers, and any external opportunities, weaknesses, and risks will help you understand the overall operation of the company. 

Click the 'Industry' tab at the top of this page to see the resources I use to conduct industry research.

Below are the steps for effective industry research. 

1. Identify the Industry

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.

2. Locate Industry Surveys, Overviews, and Reports

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.  

3. Identify Leading Companies, begin to compare and contrast

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. 

Click the 'Company' tab on this page to see the resources I recommend for gathering intelligence on individual companies.

4.  Find News and Articles about the Industry

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.

5.  Visit Leading Industry Websites and Trade Associations

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. 

Search the internet for your [industry name] AND "trade association" OR "professional organization" to begin looking for relevant agencies.

Search Tips

  • Magazine, trade publication and newspaper articles can be excellent sources of information about industries.  Try searching for the name of your industry. 
  • If you get too many results, try narrowing down your search by adding in additional keywords or terms related to what you want to find out "about" that industry.  Are you looking for sales, projections, trends, forecasts or something related to their supply chain or operations? 
  • If you don't get any results, you may be using too many keywords or need to think of your industry more broadly.  For example, if you can't find any information on the pen industry, maybe you should look for information on the office supply industry.
  • Trade associations & organizations can provide a wealth of information and statistics about an industry. Sometimes, this information is restricted to members-only. It's usually worth taking a look at their site to see what may be available for free.
  • If it is a members-only site, see if the association has been quoted in business trade publications, newspapers or magazines.  You can do this by using their name as a search term in the databases listed under the "Business Articles" tab.

How-to Guides