Companies & Finance: Private company information

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About private company research

Just as private individuals are not required to publish their income tax returns, neither are private companies.  (The analogy is not perfect, I know; but part of the information that SEC filings provide is roughly comparable to tax return information.) 

There is simply less public information to find about these companies.  Often you can only find news items about the company.

 –  Search in trade magazines and newspapers using the databases listed below
 –  Use more complex search techniques (e.g. proximity searches, truncation, etc.)
 –  Remember to ask for help!

Private company financials

For private companies, you're seriously limited in what you can hope to find. Because they're private, they don't have to disclose much financial information, so often all you can find will be sales or revenue estimates.

The databases below include information on US private companies (and Hoover's has some international companies, though not many).  Both will have estimated figures for either sales or revenue for some of these private companies.

Trade journal article databases

Some of these databases also contain more than just trade journal articles, some scholarly, some popular, even some newswires. But their strength is in their coverage of the trades.

Use these databases when you're researching specific companies or industries.

Trade journal articles usually ...

 –   Are written by people who work in or specialize in a particular industry / profession, but are not scholars
 –   Provide current news and information about the industry and the companies in it

A few specific titles: 

News article databases

Use these databases when you're researching specific companies, especially if the company is small or private. Use them also if you're researching business conditions at a local level, not regional or national.

Searching in newspaper databases is not always as easy as in other article databases: they do not usually have any subject terms, so usually you must put more thought into finding alternate search terms. I suggest starting with the BIG news article databases listed at the bottom of this section.

The BIG news article databases:

Proximity commands

These commands tell the search engine to find two words near each other, separated by a maximum number of words.  The search terms will be retrieved regardless of the order they're in.

➤  Search within the full-text of articles (not the default) for better results.  
➤  Especially useful for searching in news and trade articles.

These commands are very useful!  Here are two scenarios:

  • When searching on people's names, you have to allow for the use or absence of a middle name/initial. 
  • When searching for phrases where the significant words can be used in different ways/orders, but still have the same meaning.  For example, the following phrases all mean basically the same thing: 

     –  commercials aired during recent superbowls
     –  superbowl LVII commercials
     –  commercials from superbowl 57  

Proximity commands and examples for ProQuest, Ebsco, Nexis Uni
ProQuest command: near/N

 –  matthew near/3 levatich
 –  road rage near/15 accidents

Ebsco command: nN

 –  ajita n3 rajendra
 –  multilevel marketing n10 cosmetics

Nexis Uni command: near/N

 –  ursula near/3 burns
 –  superbowl near/10 commercials

NewsBank command: nearN

 –  selena near3 gomez
 –  murders near5 building

Truncation and wild card characters


Truncation just means that you shorten a search word so that the search engine will retrieve variations of that search word. You type fewer words and tell the search engine to do the work!  The asterisk (*) is the truncation symbol for most platforms.

➤  Search within the full-text of articles (not the default) for better results.  
➤  Especially useful for searching in news and trade articles.

* (the asterisk) in most platforms:

Works in ProQuest, Ebsco, Nexis Uni, NewsBank and Gale databases:

Here are examples that show how to format a search and spell out what will be retrieved:  

educat* retrieves: educate, educated, educates, educating, education, educator, educators
govern* retrieves: govern, governed, governing, government, governments, governor, governors, governs

About truncation: 

 –  Requires a root 'word' of 3 letters minimum
 –  Works better with a root of 4 or 5 letters (that is, will retrieve more relevant keywords)
 –  Cannot be used on the left side (beginning) of the root word

Wild card characters:

Wild card characters allow more control than simple truncation:  for example, they can be used for spelling variations (woman vs. women; color vs. colour), or for limited truncation (for example, adaptor or adapted or adapts, but not adaptation or adapting). 

But there is NO standardization among database platforms, so check the help pages for each platform you use!  Characters used as wild cards include:  the asterisk (*), the question mark (?), the number or pound sign (#), and even the exclamation point (!).