Business Reference: How to sort through it

For my Business Reference class, we recently had a question-set assignment where our goal was to find the most up-to-date information and provide the “correct” answer with APA-citation.  Sounds easy enough, right?  Wrong.  I discovered many problems with the assignment to the point I was second guessing myself over and over.  This could be attributed to my OCD-nature as a LS grad student, or what’s more likely is that the questions could have several different answers and I would never know if it was the most up-to-date.

Thus, here are some major sources of frustration:


Problem #1: Many of  the questions in the “question-set” were to mimic that of a typical reference question.  They didn’t.

Problem #2: There are so many different resources, which one should I use with the most current information?  Or am I really supposed to look at EVERYTHING?  Is that practical?

Problem #3: I am not very good at Math, nor Statistics…(this speaks for itself).

With my frustration mounting, I decided to contact an old colleague of mine for help, since business reference is his schtick, and he was more than happy to help me (thankfully).  In my paranoid, frantic e-mail, I wanted to address problem #1 (see above, 😛 ).  I wanted to know if questions such as: “List the revenue and net income for INSERT COMPANY HERE for the past 5 years.  What is the company’s growth rate over each of the last five years based on the total revenue/sales?” were typical.  When I first read this question, I had NO CLUE what any of that meant.  Coming from a humanity background, I didn’t even know what resources would have such information.  I also didn’t think this was a reference question that I would ever see, because I would never DO someone’s homework for them.  I can understand providing the material and the formula to answer this questions, but I would NEVER figure out “growth rate”..see Problem #3: I am not very good at math, and would not trust myself helping to that extent.

Then, Problem #2 struck me.  Gah! How can I possibly sort through all of this information??  How do I know it is the most up-to-date??  The only way I could think to approach this was to just go to a database and check it out.  I figured, if it seems too old, it probably is, and I went with that, no matter how impractical my method seemed.

But it worked!  Here is a list of databases/resources I found most current for business reference (if you library subscribes to it, that is):
1. S&P
2. Mergent
3. Yahoo! Finance (Yes, Yahoo, if you don’t believe me, check it out)
4. Datamonitor (great SWOT analysis)

After that, comes the most out-of-date: The U.S. Census.  Obviously.  If it isn’t FactFinder, expect this to be your last resort.  Also, instead of answering Industry questions with the Census, try using their trade-industry website.  For example, if you get a question such as, “how many people are employed in the restaurant industry?,” check out The National Restaurant Association website:

This is so much quicker than the Census Industry Statistics page, as you don’t have to choose whether the restaurant you are referring to is full-service, limited-service, etc.  The patron may not know all of that information after you conduct the reference interview.

Then comes the citation.  APA.  Business database.  How?

Here is a link to a wonderful resource for business citations, you can’t even find this stuff on OWL!

So, if you find yourself second guessing how current your information is, take a look at the list above.  OR contact a handy librarian!  After all, that’s what they’re there for   🙂


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