Top Ten Tips for Commodities Research

This guide was prepared to assist students doing research on commodities for Geography 322;

If you need help, please contact Sarah (Tong) Zhang, Librarian for Geography, GIS, & Maps at 778-782-9704 or tza68@sfu.ca or Ask a librarian.

1. Choose your commodity wisely!

Some commodities are easier to find information on than other ones. Pick an easier one. It is the process that counts! Hint: pick something from the CRB Commodity Yearbook or the UNCTAD Commodity Yearbook - these are the easiest. Don't pick diamonds, unless you want industrial diamonds...this is the hardest commodity I have ever been asked about!

2. Read the guides carefully!

The Commodities guide is a comprehensive collection of sources. The Geography 322 course guide has tips for the research paper assignment. The answer to many of your questions is probably somewhere in one of these guides.

3. Remember...your commodity is part of a hierarchy!

  • Cod is part of the groundfish group. Groundfish are part of the sea or ocean fish group. Ocean fish are part of the fish group.
  • Canola is part of the oil seeds group. Oil seeds are part of the grains group. Grains are part of the agriculture group.
  • Aluminum is part of the metals group. Metals are part of the minerals group. Minerals are part of the mining group.

Knowing the hierarchy of your commodity helps you locate sources of information. For example, if you know that Aluminum is a mineral, which is mined, you may think of Natural Resources Canada as a source of information.

If you can't find anything on your commodity, try the broader category. For example, CANSIM has data on Groundfish, but not on Cod.

If you don't know the hierarchy of your commodity, use the Commodity Indexes for the Standard International Trade Classification, Revision (SITC) 3. 2 vols. [print]

4. Does your commodity have another name?

The grain Canola is a variety of rapeseed developed in Canada in the 1960's and 1970's. While rapeseed and Canola are not exactly synonymous, the world market usually packages the information under the heading Rapeseed. So, while you can find Canola in CANSIM, you will not find Canola in the FAOSTAT database - but you will find Rapeseed.

Plant commodities, such as Western Red Cedar, have scientific names. If you are searching for information, you should try both the common and the scientific name in your search. If you do not know the scientific name, see the list of sources in the General Additional Resources (Taxonomy) section of the Biological Sciences research guide page.

Animal commodities may have more than one name too...pigs/hogs/swine, for example. On the Figis database (fish), Salmon are cleverly hidden under the heading Diadromous fish.

Don't fixate on one name for your commodity! Poke about the various websites - like Easter eggs, you won't find if you don't look.

5. Not everything is available online! You may have to use a real book.

Look at the sources listed in the Commodities guide. Only a percentage of them are available online. Some of the very best sources, such as the UNCTAD Commodity Yearbook, are not available online. You may save yourself time by coming to the library in person and looking at the print sources first!

6. CANSIM does not have all commodity prices!

Don't expect to find everything in CANSIM. If we do not produce it or process it in Canada, the commodity is unlikely to be in the prices section of the database. For example, you will not find bananas but you will find coffee because we do process coffee in Canada. Use your knowledge of your commodity and the Commodities guide to help you find the information you need.

7. Think...who might collect statistics and other information about your commodity?

What government body might you look at for information? For example, if you are searching for statistics on cod, then you might want to look at the Newfoundland government website.

Frequently there is an organization of producers of the commodity and their information is accessible on the web. For example, for oranges, you might try the Florida Citrus Growers website. How do you find a producer's website? Use one or more of the sources listed in our Associations guide or search Google.

8. Use Google searches (that is what I do!)

A good Google search is often the fastest way of finding information on your commodity. You can find producer associations, freely available statistics, and lots more on the web. Use your commodity name and additional terms such as "historical prices", commodity, association...whatever terms you can think of.

9. Contact me for help

Once you have read the guides and spent some time trying yourself, and are still having no luck, contact me. And, if it is a question about whether some piece of information you find is good enough...ask your instructor or the TA.

10. Remember...you can't always get what you want!

But, as the song says...if you try, you'll get what you need! So try these pages: