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Company Research: Basics

Where Do I Start?

What the company tells you:

Companies are savvy corporate communicators. They recognize the value of having informative Web sites where they can showcase their products and services and communicate their vision. Many company websites have a history of the company and often of specific products. Often located at the bottom of the page, links to Investor Information, about us, social responsibility, etc. can lead to valuable information. Promotional materials, catalogs, product descriptions and price lists may also prove valuable. Remember that information provided by a company is self-reported and may be somewhat subjective.

What the company has to disclose to the government:

A variety of publically available reports are reported to the SEC (Security and Exchange Commission). The 10K is an annual report that provides a wealth of information about a company. Other SEC filings, the U.S. Census Bureau's Economic Census, state filings

What the company keeps confidential:

Trade secrets and other sensitive business information are often protected and kept confidential through non-disclosure agreements. Internal information is often kept confidential, as well.

What others say about the company:

A variety of information sources report what other say about a company. News, blogs, research articles, books, market research, analyst reports, government, industry and trade expert reports are available through both proprietary and openly available information sources.

Company Extensions

Ever wondered what GmbH, Ltd, KG, SA, etc. in foreign companies names stand for?  Find out here:

Ticker Symbols

Ticker symbols are letters used to uniquely identify a public company and can be used to make company research more effiicient. Many of the resources in this guide will identify ticker symbols, but one of the quickest way to find a ticker symbol is to use a free website like Google Finance or Yahoo Finance.

Types of Companies

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Availability of Information

The availability of information available about a company varies widely depending on the type of company. Use a directory such as Mergent Online to determine whether a company is public, private, non-profit or non-U.S.


Because public companies are required by the government to adhere to stringent reporting regulations, there is a great deal of publicly available information about companies which trade on the stock market - SEC filings, annual reports, analysts' reports, news stories, books and case studies.

Much less information about privately held companies is publicly available. While not required to report to the federal government, all 50 states make some level of corporate and business filings available online.  Appalachian State now has access to PrivCo, a database of information about private companies. 

The amount of information on international companies varies. If the company trades on the U.S. exchanges it must file annual reports (20-F) with the SEC. Other information can be found in directories, databases, newspapers and magazines.

Finances and other general information can be found in Form 990 which nonprofits must file with the IRS annually. Many are posted on the web at Some information can also be found in newspaper and journal articles.


Library databases mentioned:

Legal Structure

There are many types of legal structures for a business but the three listed below are most common: 

Corporation: a legal entity created by state charter, endowed with specific powers and capable of surviving the deaths of its owners. May be profit and nonprofit (educational, scientific, charitable and religious). Stockholders and employees of a corporation cannot be held personally responsible for any debt or lawsuits faced by the company.

Partnership: an association of two or more people for the purpose of jointly owning a business.

Sole proprietorship:  the simplest and most common form of business organization. The major legal requirement is that the founder register the business name with the local government where the company will reside.

Corporate Family Structure

Parent Company: a company that controls or owns another company or companies.

Subsidiary: a corporation in which more than 50% of its voting stock is owned by another company.  The subsidiary may have a different name than the controlling corporation.

Wholly owned subsidiary:  100 % of the firm's stock or assets have been acquired by the parent.

Coordinator of Access & Public Services

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Ken Johnson
Coordinator of Access & Public Services
Appalachian State University
Belk Library & Information Commons
ASU Box 3206 Boone, NC 28608
828 262-2776


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Jackie Eagleson
(828) 262-7424