Using Aleph: 5 tips and tricks to find out about what extractive companies tell their investors

Every week thousands of pages are filed by extractive companies to stock exchanges across the globe, containing valuable information on oil, gas and mining operations worldwide. Through such disclosures, investors, regulators and researchers can update themselves on any listed company’s financial situation, the economics of particular oil or mining projects, newly signed host-government contracts, changes in directors or shareholders, and lots more. We at OpenOil for example have already successfully searched through them to find precious documents on multiple occasions, such as the hundreds of host-government contracts available on our contract repository.

But so can you… by using our search-tool Aleph. Here we would like to share a few tips and tricks on how to best make use of Aleph. In fact, we are only discovering the power of the search tool ourselves and will put out a series of blogs in the coming weeks to describe particular use-cases, such as comparing interest rates of intra-group loans. In the meantime, we encourage you to explore the thousands of documents already. And to best do so, you should keep the following tips and tricks in mind, so as to find the information that is relevant to you.

1) Be exact when selecting search terms

2) Narrow down search results

3) Use Aleph to find the particular, and not the common

4) Use the language of companies

5) Be creative and playful

1) Be exact when selecting search terms

When using Aleph, the selection of the right search terms is crucial. By typing in any series of words into the search bar, you will tell Aleph to list all the documents in which there is an exact match of your search terms. It therefore makes a difference whether you type in the singular or plural of a word, use the British or the American spelling, search for a noun or an adjective, and so on… For instance, the search term “confidentiality” is going to list all corporate filings that contain exactly that term, but not those documents that contain variations of the word, such as “confidential” or “confidentially”. The * symbol can help here: it will find all words beginning with a certain prefix, so that confidentia* will match confidential, confidentially, or confidentiality.

Example Aleph search term: confidentia*
Listing all documents that contain words starting with the prefix “confidentia” and those with alternative endings, such as “confidentiality” or “confidentially”

 

2) Narrow down search results

Select one of the document sources to narrow down your search result

If a search term results in too many documents for you to read through, try to narrow down Aleph’s search results. There are three ways to do so: first, by specifying just one of the document bases. Let’s say you are only interested in EITI reports, you can select the document base on the right side menu and it will only list those documents within that document source, that contain your search term.

The second way to narrow down search results is by adjusting the search terms. Try for example to search for “confidential*” AND “agreement” (make sure you write AND in capital letters), which is going to list all documents that contain the two words. Or even better, search for an exact term in quotes, such as “confidential” AND “production sharing agreement”.

If you still didn’t find what you are looking for, try a proximity search: the third way to narrow down results. Such a search will list documents that contain multiple search terms, but only where your search terms appear in proximity of each other. You can do so by adding ~10 or any other number at the end of quote, e.g. “confidential agreement”~10, which will tell Aleph to list those documents that contain both “confidential” and “agreement” in proximity of 10 words of each other.

Example Aleph search term: “confidential” AND “production sharing agreement”
Listing all documents that contain variations of the term “confidential*” AND the exact quote “production sharing agreement”
Example Aleph search term: “confidential agreement”~10
Listing all documents that have all words inside the quote in proximity of max. 10 words

 

3) Use Aleph to find the particular, and not the common

While Aleph’s API allows for statistical-level analysis, we believe one of the strengths of Aleph’s frontend lies in finding the hidden – a mention somewhere deep down in a PDF. It is therefore important that you test out search terms that are unique to the topic you want to research. For example, search for the name of a particular oil block or mining site, rather than for a country, e.g. “Bulyanhulu” (the name of a gold mine in Tanzania) as opposed to “Tanzania gold”. Another way to find the particular, is by searching for a particular technical term. Let’s say you are interested in commodity trading, then you might want to search for terms such as “cargo” and “API” (a term to specify the quality of oil cargos), – and not for generic terms such as “commodity” or “trading”. The same principle also applies to company names: rather search for the full legal name of the subsidiary that is running the operations in a particular country, as opposed to the names of a group, e.g. “Bulyanhulu Gold Mine Limited” (the subsidiary operating the gold mine), and not “Acacia” (it’s ultimate parent company).

Example Aleph search term: “Bulyanhulu”
Search for the name of a particular oil, gas or mining project, such as the “Bulyanhulu” gold mine in Tanzania
Example Aleph search term: “Bulyanhulu Gold Mine Limited”
Search for the full legal name of a subsidiary running the operations in a particular country, rather for the name of a company group

 

4) Use the language of companies

Corporate filings are full of legal jargon. It is therefore helpful to pay close attention to the language companies use in such documents, so as to abstract out relevant search terms.

Let’s say you are following a company-government dispute in a particular country, and you want to see whether there have been any precedents that could indicate the outcome of the dispute. A first search of the term “court settlement” will already lead you to a few relevant company announcements, such as this one. Carefully reading through these first leads however, you will come across a series of terms that are frequently used in the context, such as “out of court settlement”, “cease all legal action” or “compensations for an amount of…” – all of which will allow you to expand the scope of relevant documents, in this case in regards to court settlements.

Example Aleph search term: “out of court settlement”“cease all legal action”“compensations for an amount of…”
Once you found a document relevant to your research, try to adopt the language to find similar documents

 

5) Be creative and playful

Last but not least, be creative. Play around with different search-terms, methods and use-cases. And keep in mind, many of the biggest data success stories have been born by coincidences…

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