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Business Research Sources
When searching for business information in secondary sources, it is often good to start by thinking about who else might have a reason to collect the same type of information you are seeking. Most business information comes from three types of sources:
Various branches of government provide a wide range of data and facts essential for business operations and analyses. These include, among many other things, patents, tax laws, Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) filings for publicly traded companies, economic census data on businesses, population census data on markets, and household spending data.
Almost all companies have websites as well as media or public relations personnel who disseminate information about companies and their products--and sometimes their competitors. Just remember that companies may be somewhat selective about what they choose to share and how they position the information they do release to the public.
Interested Third Parties
The third group consists of businesses who have vested interests in gathering and publishing information about industries, companies, and products.These generally fall into two major subgroups.
These groups, as well as a few similar resources designed specifically for academic audiences, strive for accuracy in their reports, but it is important to remember each publication's target audience and sources of income when utilizing the information.
- Financial services organizations that analyze markets to help educate investors about business sectors, industries, management, trends, and executive leadership (e.g., Standard & Poor's and Mergent).
- Trade publications whose primary audiences are people who work in the various industries. Almost every industry has several publications that regularly run articles about leading companies and products, emerging trends, marketing programs,and management personnel. (e.g., Beverage World and Nation's Restaurant News),
Evaluating Sources: Critical Questions
The questions below can help you assess the value of various sources relative to your information needs for this project. Note that the categories overlap and are somewhat arbitrary. Plus some questions will be more important than others depending on the type of information you are considering. Evaluation is seldom as simple as deciding whether a source is “reliable” or “not reliable.” It’s also about ascertaining the degree to which a source is suitable for a given purpose.
- When was the data collected or the information published?
- Is it recent enough to provide meaningful input for this project? If not, has an update been published or posted?
RELEVANCE: Importance for Specific Project
- Is the geographical area for the research or report the same as the targeted geographical area for your project? If not, does another source have data for your target market(s)?
- Does the source provide meaningful statistics for your target audience? For example, if the primary target audience for your business is teenage males, does the source have data breaks for that demographic group?
- How well do the companies or industries discussed in the research material match your proposed business? If not exactly, what are the similarities and differences? Is it possible to find material that is more directly related to the industry or company you are researching?
- Have you considered the ways that multiple sources might be combined to produce relevant information? For example, one source may tell you the size of a demographic segment in 2010 and another may talk about the rate of growth in that segment between 2010 and 2015.
AUTHORITY: Source of Information
- Who is the author or publisher of the research or report?
- Are the credentials and affiliations of the author and/or publisher listed? Do they indicate that the author/publisher has knowledge, expertise, or skills relevant to the research topic? Is there contact information for the author or publisher?
- Is it possible to trace any outside sources that were used by the author/publisher? Are citations or other means of tracing the creator's sources included?
- Does the URL reveal anything about the author or source? For example, commercial (.com), educational (.edu), government (.gov), or nonprofit organization (.org)?
ACCURACY: Reliability, Truthfulness, and Correctness of the Content
- What is the original source of the data or information? Does the author or publisher explain how data were collected or analyzed?
- Are the data internally consistent?
- Are the data consistent with other reliable sources and observations? Can you verify any of the information in another source? Is the information or data supported by other evidence?
- Why were the data collected, assembled and/or analyzed? Why was the research or report published?
- Who is the primary audience?
- What is the author or publisher's intent? Is the person or organization trying to inform? sell? entertain?
- Does the author appear to have a single point of view regarding the information or are multiple perspectives presented?
- Is the creator's point of view objective and impartial, or is there reason to believe that the author or publisher has political, ideological, cultural, religious, institutional, or personal biases?
The above was adapted from: