Thinking ‘Bout Research: Digging Deeper Into Company Information

Many thanks to Daniel Hickey, business and information sciences librarian at Penn State University Libraries for sharing these tips on researching specific companies.

Penn State has librarians that specialize in every academic discipline, as our information literacy librarian, Emily Rimland, mentioned in her last post. Oftentimes the in-depth research guides we create can point you at the core resources to begin doing research in your field.

There are librarians for every course of study at Penn State. Daniel Hickey specializes in Business and IST.
There are librarians for every course of study at Penn State. Daniel Hickey specializes in Business and IST.

When you’re stuck, however, it’s best to contact a librarian directly. I work in the Business Library and often see students struggle with researching companies. Companies touch every aspect of our lives – health, education, leisure, etc. – so it’s no surprise that students across the University’s colleges need to do this kind of research.

If you’re not a business student, the Business Library staff can help you focus your research to locate the specific information you need. In this example, before you begin researching a company in one of the Business Library’s databases, librarians can help you understand exactly what you need and what you can hope to find.

Is your company public or private?

Companies that are publicly traded on stock exchanges must report specific information to the government, while private companies report less.  This means that private companies are often harder to research. Penn State has several databases, such as Hoover’s and Mergent, which contain information on both types of companies. Occasionally the company you’re looking for will be a subsidiary, meaning it is under the umbrella of a larger company. Looking up both the subsidiary and the owner will give you a more holistic look at your company.

Hoover's is a well-known database containing company information.
Hoover's is a well-known database containing company information.

How much information do you need? Often times a company’s official website will contain much of the basic information (financial figures in the 10K report, annual reports to investors, lists of executives, etc.) to answer your question. Check out the “Corporate” or “Investors” sections to begin finding this type of information fast and “from the horse’s mouth”.

Is company information really what I need? There are many different kinds of business research, so company databases might not always be the best place to look. Researchers often begin looking for company information, but later realize they need industry information instead. (For example, you might begin researching something like Heinz ketchup, but end up wanting to see how condiments in general are selling.)

Librarians do research day in and day out, so we are used to asking these kinds of questions. If you find that you don’t know where to start, don’t hesitate to contact us. Using the libraries’ resources will give you a competitive advantage over those who don’t, so dive in and impress your instructors with the best information available!