Widely sought for a host of different uses, business information has been
transformed by mainstream access to information technology, and in
particular, by widespread access to the
The broad concept of business information encompasses all kinds of
quantitative and qualitative information, on either a macro or micro
level, about companies, products, markets, corporate leaders, industries,
ideas, philosophies, and practices.
TYPES OF RESEARCH.
Business information is organized and disseminated in a variety of ways,
often requiring savvy researchers to approach their topic from multiple
angles. It may be classified by the subject matter (e.g., international
company profiles), by the nature of the source (e.g., Internet sites,
government data), or by the end use it serves (e.g., to find a job).
Ultimately, of course, the end use drives the research process. Some of
the most common end uses are:
to gauge the current or potential demand for their products or
services. Sources for market research may report household or business
demographics, provide sales leads, analyze competitors' strengths
and weaknesses in the market, or describe attitudes or opinions about a
class of products or services.
Closely related to market research,
is targeted specifically at finding information about established or
emerging competitors. It may not directly involve the market, though,
and can include information about competitors' financial
condition, their logistics and
practices, new products, and business alliances.
The financial markets generate a vast quantity of business information.
Publicly traded companies and investment funds are required by law to
make regular and detailed disclosures about their operations, and
investment brokerages and the
likewise produce a continuous stream of stock-related information.
Regulation, taxation, and general economic fact-finding.
These are the initial end uses for government-collected data, often to
satisfy statutory requirements, but that data is also used frequently in
the private sector as well. Data that originated for government or
general public benefit is often reused in business applications, as is,
in market research.
Consumer interest and job hunting.
General business information is published for consumers and job
hunters, including such basic facts as company contact information and
general profiles of well-known corporations.
TYPES OF SOURCES.
Tens of thousands of publications and databases provide business
information. Below are some of the most commonly used types.
Business monographs and textbooks
are simply books published on a particular business topic or field,
such as employee relations, management theory, or corporate scandals.
Mainstream news media
include the print and electronic output from major news organizations
and periodicals. Some examples are news wires, the
Wall Street Journal, Business Week,
(a television and web venture of the Cable News Network).
Trade journals and newsletters,
often published by trade associations or specialized publishers, report
on specific industries or professions and have narrow audiences.
Articles from many trade journals, as well as mainstream print sources,
are widely available through periodical indexing services such as
LEXIS-NEXIS and Infotrac.
consists of press releases, brochures, annual reports, and other
documents distributed by companies directly to the public. At larger
companies much of this information is now published on the Internet,
although it is also common to find corporate Internet sites that have
been neglected for years, forcing researchers to fall back on more
traditional methods like calling the company.
Government publications and databases
are usually bare-bones repositories of data collected by the numerous
government agencies. Many books are published by the Government Printing
Office (GPO) and distributed through its retail or direct-order
channels, but specific agencies also release a great deal directly to
the public through other means, particularly the Internet. Examples
include STAT-USA (a web-based database of reports on foreign trade and
macroeconomic indicators), the
Annual Survey of Manufactures,
and the EDGAR database (a collection of public company filings
maintained by the
Securities and Exchange Commission
Market research reports
are detailed and usually very current studies—often replete with
forecasts—of market segments, market share, and trends. They are
frequently expensive and some may be custom, unpublished research done
for a specific company. Well-known market research firms include
International Data Corporation (IDC), Frost & Sullivan, the
Gartner Group, and several of the large accounting and management
is compiled by brokerages for their clients and by publishers for a
broader audience. These reports are typically very timely and may offer
investment recommendations. For a more general audience, recent
quotes and other basic information are available freely at many
business web sites.
Directories and almanacs
are serials or databases that enumerate basic facts about one or more
subjects. They may be used to generate mailing lists or to gain
information on selected companies, among other applications. Common
formats include company directories and yearbooks on various industries
This list is far from comprehensive, but it indicates the quantity and
diversity of resources available for finding business information. It
should also be noted that some information products, typically sold to
companies, libraries, or other institutions, combine the functions of
several of the types of sources described here. These integrated reference
sources often are distributed on CD-ROM or through a subscription
database, and they can greatly simplify the research process. For example,
a single company entry may contain all the contact information and
financial statistics of a directory, describe the company's history
in a several-page narrative, offer links to recent news stories about the
company, and provide an overview of that company's industry and its
place within the industry.
EFFECTS OF THE INTERNET.
As the list above suggests, the Internet has had a profound impact on the
availability and timeliness of business information. It has made available
to the general public many forms
of information that previously came to the average researcher either
secondhand or after months of delay. As a result, many major business
publications that were formerly available only in print are now offered
online, and sometimes with greater detail and currency than is possible in
print. Indeed, online sources represent significant competition for
traditional business media. The Internet's main drawbacks, however,
are its lack of organization and the questionable reliability of
information published on obscure sites. Still, it offers cautious and
persistent business researchers enormous benefits of fast and often
inexpensive access to current and diverse information.
Butler, F. Patrick.
Business Research Sources: A Reference Navigator.
New York: McGraw-Hill, 1998.
Encyclopedia of Business Information Sources.
Detroit: The Gale Group, annual.
Freed, Melvyn L., Virgil P. Diodato, and David A. Rouse.
Business Information Desk Reference: Where to Find Answers to Business
New York: Macmillan Library Reference, 1998.
Business Information: How to Find It, How to Use It.
2nd ed. Phoenix, AZ: Oryx Press, 1992.
Pagell, Ruth A., and Michael Halperin.
International Business Information: How to Find It, How to Use It.
2nd ed. Phoenix, AZ: Oryx Press, 1998.