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Doing Industry Research: A Resource Guide

Basic Strategies

Bain News Service. Grown teaching Jap[anese] runners how to start. [between ca. 1915 and ca. 1920]. George Grantham Bain Collection. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

All of the sources listed in this guide can be used to varying degrees no matter the industry. However, some industries are going to be difficult to research.

  • An industry dominated by only a few players is harder to find information on because the pool of information to be pulled from is smaller, and it is likely those companies will not be as open in terms of providing information.
  • Private companies are hard to research because those companies hold information about themselves more closely, so an industry dominated by private companies will have less open information available.
  • An industry that is primarily part of a larger industry is harder to find information about because sources will focus on the bigger picture more than smaller component parts.
  • An industry that is very niche has a smaller audience of interested watchers, which offers fewer resource options and may have a smaller pool of people interested in knowing about he industry.

Conversely, it will be easier to find information on "big" industries--those dominated by public companies and/or highly regulated.

There are a few general things to keep in mind which other sections of this guide will focus on a bit more.

Look for the Publishers

Some of the best sources for information on a specific industry are done by publishers focused on an industry or industries. For example, Informa (Datamonitor) IHS, Plunkett, or S&P's Market Intelligence (SNL/Kagan) and Platts (now part of S&P) all either focus on industries generally, or have historically looked at a particular one. It should be noted, that while industry reports may be available directly from such publishers or from aggregators like, these reports can be quite expensive and since they are often not part of any library's collection it is not likely that they will be something that can be borrowed.

Look at the Companies

One way to get at some information is to look at filings companies make with Securities & Exchange Commission and other regulators. If you do that for several companies, a bigger picture will emerge. More discussion on this is addressed by clicking on Research the Companies in the left navigation.

Go Deep, Get Creative

In those cases where it may be hard to find industry information, getting creative will be important. Information will be harder to obtain and most likely come in small pieces that are then put together to form a bigger picture.

Briefly, here are a few suggestions to search for hard to find industries (or if you don't have access to databases), but other parts of this guide will provide more detail and links to sources:

  • Search in full-text article databases for articles in trade magazines or local papers--often these publications have some sort of web presence, though what is free and what isn't, will vary.
  • Look at government data from Census as well as, in some cases, the agencies that might regulate the industry (see the pages in this guide for a run-down).
  • Look to the association(s) that may cover the industry because they may have some publications/reports/information that is available for free or for a fee, but which may help you find what they publish that may be part of a library's collection.
  • When looking at industries that may not be big but have big, public companies as major players or when many of the companies are private and there are public companies involved, look to the SEC documents for those companies. See Research the Companies for more information on this.
  • Look at the web pages of companies that are in the industry to find out how they see themselves, how they organize, who their clients are, what they produce, etc.

Business Reference has created a number of guides that relate to particular industries that will ink to associations or other industry websites that may offer free information.