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Business: A Research Guide

Questions to Ask

Before you begin company research, you should know a little bit of information about your company. 

Why? It will impact where you search and the amount of information that you find. Ask:

  1. Is the company public or private?
  2. Is the company a subsidiary?
  3. Is the company American or international?

Private companies are more difficult to research because they are privately owned; they do not have to disclose any information to the public.

Public companies are easiest to research. They are regulated by the government (in the U.S., it's the SEC), sell shares to the general public, and must publicly report company and financial information.

Subsidiary companies will not have their own annual reports, and you may not find information on them in the resources listed on this page. You'll need to determine who the parent company is and research the parent company. Journal articles will be a major source for information on subsidiaries.

Company profiles provide succinct overviews of a company-- including company history, key facts,  top executives, major products and services, competitors, and locations/subsidiaries. Company profiles are an excellent starting point.

Annual Reports

The federal securities laws require public companies to disclose information on an ongoing basis. For example, domestic companies must submit annual reports on Form 10-K, quarterly reports on Form 10-Q, and current reports on Form 8-K for a number of specified events and must comply with a variety of other disclosure requirements.

The annual report on Form 10-K provides a comprehensive overview of the company's business and financial condition and includes audited financial statements. Although similarly named, the annual report on Form 10-K is distinct from the “annual report to shareholders,” which a company must send to its shareholders when it holds an annual meeting to elect directors.


Industry research is often most successful if you know the NAICS for your industry.  Many business information sources use SIC and NAICS codes as access points.

NAICS, or the North American Industry Classification System, has been used by government and business since 1997 to standardize the classification of industries. 

SIC stands for Standard Industrial Classification code; SIC codes are no longer officially in use, although you will see still SIC's in business sources.

Find Ratios

Ratios are used to measure the financial strengths and weaknesses of companies or industries. Ratios are based on data found in balance sheets, income statements, and sometimes share prices. The sources listed here will provide you with either company ratios or industry ratios.