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Industry Research Strategy

Industry Research: Getting Started

First, it might be helpful to look over the Library’s General Research Strategies. This guide describes some general research principles that may help you as you begin your research project.

Researching an Industry is, however, a very different process from other types of research. It can be difficult, for example, to even define what we mean by an “industry.” We must then decide what kinds of companies would and would not be included in our industry, and we have to decide whether we are speaking regionally, nationally, continentally, or globally. Even when we have cleared these hurdles, though, we face the difficult task of finding data and information that corresponds to our own definition of an industry.

This task cannot be made easy, but with a systematic approach and appropriate research resources you should be well on your way to a more complete understanding of an industry’s behavior and performance.  Below is a very general guide to researching an industry. Some of it may be highly relevant and very helpful to your research, but you will probably have to modify it somewhat to meet your specific needs (and the demands of your assignment).

Step 1: Define and Idenitfy Your Industry
Step 2: Get a Broad Overview of the Industry
Step 3: Find Industry Statistics and Ratios
Step 4: Research Industry Trade Associations & Organizations
Step 5: Find Journal Articles and News Stories
Step 6: Bring It All Together

Step1: Define and Identify Your Industry

As mentioned above, it can be hard to define what we really mean by an industry. Fortunately, there is a more-or-less standardized system of industry classifications to which the governments of Canada, Mexico and the United States subscribe, called the () North American Industry Classification System (NAICS). On this site you can get more information and a brief history of NAICS, and you can look up the NAICS code for the industries you will be researching.

Another common classification system is the SIC (Standard Industrial Classification) code, which is simply the precursor of NAICS. NAICS was released in 1997 to replace SIC, but, perhaps predictably, both coding systems are in current use. There is a conversion tool on the (http://www.naics.com/search.htm) NAICS Web Site, so you can get both codes before you proceed.

If you are researching a company, and you don’t really know which industry or industries the company is working in, you can look up the company in a Directory like Mergent Online, search for the company, and get the NAICS and/or SIC codes on the Company Details page.

Step 2: Get a Broad Overview of the Industry

You can get industry reports in several of the Library’s databases (accessible only to authorized campus users or through the computers in the library):

Business Insights: Essentials
Go to the Industry Overview tab in the company profile, or search by Industry on main search page

Mergent Online
From the main search page, click on the Industry Reports tab, or use the Industry tab within the Company Reports.

Standard & Poor's Net Advantage
Under Quick Links (right side of the page, middle) use the Industry Survey dropdown menu to choose an industry.

Value Line
From the front page, click on My Value Line (tab at the top of the page). On this page, choose Standard Edition under Quick Links on the left sidebar. Click on the Lookup Industry link for Industry Reports.

These reports will give you a good general picture of the industry and how it operates. Industry reports will tell you about major current trends, about events that are affecting the industry, and most offer valuable industry predictions and forecasts. You can also try some sources on the open Web, like Reuters, the Census Bureau Current Industry Reports or the Yahoo Finance Industry Center. While not as detailed, these free reports will certainly offer at least a basic insight about the position of major industries in the market.

Step 3: Find Industry Statistics and Ratios

The best online source of industry statistics, averages and ratios is the report function in Mergent Online. Creating these reports is a fairly complex task, however--click here for detailed, step-by-step instructions to creating reports containing any financial statistics or ratios you will need. 

The Industry Survey from Standard & Poor’s NetAdvantage also offers a very good, detailed report on industries, including some data and ratios. From the NetAdvantage front page, go to the Quick Links search box at about the middle of the right side of the page. Choose your industry from the Industry Surveys dropdown menu. These reports offer some good figures for top companies in the market and for the industry as a whole, particularly the “Key Industry Ratios and Statistics” section. Also interesting is the section entitled “How to Analyze…(type of industry).” This useful section tells you what factors you would consider to assess the performance of firms in a particular industry.

Another alternative for obtaining industry statistics and ratios is to come to the Reference Desk at the library to get the following books (just ask for them at the Reference Desk--you cannot take them out of the library, but you are welcome to make :

RMA Annual Statement Studies
(Reference Desk: HF5681 .B2 R6)
Contains composite financial data on manufacturing, wholesaling, retailing, service, and contracting lines of business, arranged by NAICS code. This is the only source available at SUNY Old Westbury for certain kinds of key ratios for industries.

Dunn & Bradstreet Industry Norms and Key Business Ratios
(At the Reference Desk: HF5681 .R25 I525.
Balance sheet, income statement statistics and financial ratios for industries, arranged by NAICS/SIC codes .

Step 4: Research Trade Associations & Organizations

Another valuable set of resources for industry research are the trade associations. These organizations spring up to represent just about any viable industry group, and you may find information for very specific segments of an industry. You can locate relevant trade and industry associations through several sources:

Through Company Directories at the Library
(available to authorized campus users only, or on the Library computers)

Business Insights: Essentials
Click on the Industry icon, then find your industry by code number (NAICS or SIC) or description. When you go to the industry report page, choose the Associations tab for a very comprehensive list of trade organizations and associations.

Standard & Poor's Net Advantage
Under Quick Links (right sidebar), use the Industry Survey dropdown menu to choose your industry. There is a selective list of top organizations in the “Industry References” section.

Free Online Sites:

Yahoo Search
A simple search in Google, Bing, Yahoo or similar search engines should turn up all of the major trade organizations and associations in your industry.

DMOZ Trade Associations by Industry
DMOZ is an open access reference source maintained by volunteers, similar to Wikipedia.

Google Trade Associations Directory
Google’s searchable (naturally!) listing of trade associations

Wikipedia: Trade Groups
Our good friends at Wikipedia have created a pretty good list of major organizations, both domestic and international.

Yahoo Trade Associations Directory
Yahoo too has a list.

Step 5: Find Articles and News Stories

It is vitally important to base your analysis on current information—in the business world, industries rise and fall in the blink of an eye. The sources below will help you to track current events and perceptions related to the industry you are researching. (All resources listed below are available only to authorized campus users, or through the computers in the Library).

ABI/Inform Global
Probably the best article database for business research, indexing top-quality business journals, and many of the articles are available in full text.

Business Source Complete
Business Source Complete is a large, easy-to-use database from EBSCO. It offers a huge collection, and access to many popular journals, newspapers and periodicals.

Business Insights: Essentials
This database offers a variety of types of business information. Click on the Articles icon to search for business articles.

Lexis Nexis Academic
An excellent source of up-to-the-minute information, including journal articles, newspapers, broadcast transcripts, and wire services.

Step 6: Bring It All Together

If you have diligently worked your way through the steps above, you should now have quite a stack of information from a variety of very different sources. Now is the time to bring all the pieces together. You might follow an outline not too different from the research steps listed above. You might start with a broad definition of your industry, and a brief background. Then you may want to discuss current industry activity, with some specific data to back up your views. Finally you could present some predications about the future of the industry—discussing the various opinions of major analysts and organizations, then explaining why you agree or disagree with these assessments.

It is natural at this stage to go back to the research sources to fill in gaps in your knowledge, or to refine and develop your viewpoints and conclusions. You may need more data to clear up a controversy, or you may wish to look at the performance of specific companies within the industry to see how current trends are playing out in the real world.

Just remember to support your conclusions with as many facts as possible, and cite your sources carefully and thoroughly. If you need more help with your research, contact the Library Reference Desk, or the Business Librarian. If you have trouble writing up your results, contact the campus Writing Center, also located in the Library (Room L300, on the upper floor of the Library).

Good Luck!