What is a SWOT analysis

Doing SWOT analyses is such a ubiquitous part of business consulting that few bother to consider its origin or theoretical basis. SWOT analysis is a tool for matching organizational capabilities to market circumstances within the context of strategic planning.  It is an acronym for examining the internal Strengths and Weakness, and external Opportunities and Threats faced faced by a firm.  A little known fact is that in some circles SWOT analyses are called TOWS  to stress external factors. And an early variation of the SWOT analysis developed at the Stanford Research Institute in the 1960s focused on present Satisfactory conditions, future Opportunities, present Faults and future Threats was called a SOFT analysis--but despite the study's backing by several Fortune 500 companies, it didn't quite catch on. (Chermack, 2007)  Weak branding perhaps!

  Strengths Weaknesses

Use strengths to take

advantage of opportunities


Don't let weaknesses

interfere with opportunities



Use strengths to overcome

environmental threats

Don't let weakness amplify

environmental threats

Scanning the internal and external environment of the firm is key to doing a thorough SWOT analysis, as is having an agreed upon objective for the exercise.  Especially for an outsider this will involve making inferences about internal firm conditions by relying on news and reports.   

Prepackaged SWOT Analysis

Two company reports typically include SWOT analyses:  Marketline and ReferenceUSA.  The major drawback to relying solely on these reports is that they are not done with a unique business problem in mind and they may not be timely.  With that said, they are still a good place to begin your SWOT analysis.  Don't forget to read the other sections of the company reports as they are likely to contain intelligence that you may want to include in your SWOT.

Marketline can only be searched by company name.  There are company reports for both domestic companies and foreign and publicly traded and private firms.  Not every Marketline company report includes a SWOT analysis.

ReferenceUSA only has SWOT analysis for publically traded companies.  They can be found in the OneSource module.

Research External Opportunities and Threats

Industry Reports

Industry reports typically survey industry lifecycle, competitive landscape, regulatory regime, technological, demographic and economic influences at play while providing an outlook or forecast.  Finding an industry report that includes the products and services offered by your target company will go a long way toward identifying general opportunities and threats. 

NetAdvantage Browse the industry categories.

ReferenceUSA Use the Onesource module and browse by NAICS or SIC code or keyword in the Industry tab.

IBISWorld Search by NAICS code or keyword

Proquest Snapshot These reports tend to be a bit dated.

GlobalEdge Free resource

ValueLine Written from an investment perspective

MergentWebReports not be be confused with MergentOnline. Written from an investment perspective, most similar to S&P Industry Surveys

BIZMiner Based on mining census and private statistical sources.  Excellent for small, fragmented industries.


A central reason for the existence of trade and professional associations is to work for creating a climate conducive to the interests of an industry or profession.  While they may not make their research and advocacy efforts public, a close reading of their web sites will often lead to insight into the target industries concerns which can then be researched independently.

ASAE Gateway to Associations Free directory of associations.

Encyclopedia of Associations:  National

Research Internal Strengths and Weaknesses

Spend time evaluating both your target companies e-commerce presence and investor related web site. 

Company Reports

Marketline For public and private firms in the U.S. and abroad.

Hoovers Company Records For public and private firms in the U.S. and abroad.

Mergent Online For public companies in the U.S. and internationally

ValueLine For public companies in the U.S. and internationally

Morningstar For public companies in the U.S. and internationally.  Don't miss the analysts reports.

ReferenceUSA For both private U.S. firms and public U.S. and international organizations.  (includes credit ratings)

Lexis-Nexis Aggregator of profiles for public & private, foreign and US firms.

Emerging Markets Information Service The title says it all.

Ratings & Ranking

Look for your target organizations inclusion in ratings, rankings, lists and awards applicable to multiple industries and segment specific.  Here are just a few examples....

Business Rankings Annual & Market Share Reporter

American Customer Satisfaction Index

Glassdoor Best Places to Work

Inc.'s Top Lists

Forbes America's Largest Private Companies

Philadelphia Business Journal Book of Lists Interactive (forthcoming)

100 Best Corporate Citizens

Environmental Scorecard

Public Records

Federal, state and local governments provide a wealth of data or organizations.  Be creative in how you use what is available.

Patents  Search for patents assignee.

Trademarks Identify the tradenames owned by companies.

Lexis-Nexis Search legal cases by party to find out what sort of legal conflicts your target organization may be facing.

Occupational Safety & Health Administration  Find out how safe the employees at your target establishment are.

EDGAR SEC Filings for public companies. 

Business & Trade News

Be sure to update the research found in reports by searching for articles in the trade, professional and business news about your target company and industry and around their potential areas for strength and weakness. 

Business Source Premier

ABI Inform

Business Full Text

Google News Business

Proquest Computing

Regional Business News


Proquest Telecommunications

Pharmaceutical News Index


Banking Information Source

Chermack, T.J. & Kasshanna, B.K. (2007). The use and misuse of SWOT analysis and implications for HRD professionals.  Human Resource Development International, 10, 383-399.