For those who want a simple way to invest, it's always easy for me to recommend mutual funds. A simple index fund will help anyone match the market's return. But those who want to aim even higher need to find outstanding actively managed funds with a good chance of beating the market over the long haul. And that, alas, is where things get sticky.

For starters, how are investors supposed to find such funds? Strong long-term track records and low fees are good qualities to start searching for, but they represent only one piece of the puzzle. Funds with shady managers, investing in areas or ways that don't make you comfortable, won't make you happy, no matter what kind of results you get.

Look for a good match
To avoid this grim possibility when evaluating a fund, check out its managers, and how they think and invest. This isn't always easy; if you find you can't learn much about a fund, you might consider skipping it. After all, plenty of great funds communicate well with their shareholders.

I'm a long-time shareholder in the Oakmark Select Fund (OAKLX), which has a good track record, especially when the overall market is doing poorly. Its top holdings include Intel (NASDAQ:INTC), Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE:BMY), and Best Buy (NYSE:BBY). I regularly receive lengthy, detailed quarterly reports from the fund, plus regular emails from management discussing how the fund is faring, along with extras such as transcripts of speeches the managers have given. It's a great way to get to know the people running a fund, and to decide whether you like them and their thinking.

Another good example
A while back, I discovered another fund that stands out in this regard. The Muhlenkamp Fund (MUHLX) has enjoyed above-average returns over the past decade. It holds a variety of well-known large-cap stocks like Bank of America (NYSE:BAC), General Electric (NYSE:GE), and Cisco Systems (NASDAQ:CSCO). But you'll also find some smaller companies, such as Kinetic Concepts (NYSE:KCI), among the stocks it owns.

Since the welcome-to-the-fund phone call I received when I invested, I've gotten at least one mailing per month on average. The fund issues a quarterly newsletter with guidance and commentary from its main manager, and I've also been sent a "Methods" pamphlet containing an educational essay on diversification and the fund's take on it. When I visited the fund's website, I found a rich nook full of essays and other valuable commentary. This fund is open about its style and thinking.

In his most recent letter, fund manager Ron Muhlenkamp talked about his concerns about the economy. Muhlenkamp believes that government action will hamper economic growth going forward, and that you have to find companies that can thrive even under adverse conditions. It's an interesting commentary at a crucial time for the markets.

Dig for details
As you hunt for great funds, be sure to pay attention to each fund's managers and their philosophies. You're paying for valuable advice from real people. Make sure you get it.

Sometimes, a simple portfolio is the best option. Read what Foolish fund expert Amanda Kish has to say about whether these two funds are all you really need.

Best Buy and Intel are Motley Fool Inside Value recommendations. Best Buy is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick. Motley Fool Options has recommended buying calls on Intel. The Fool owns shares of Best Buy and Kinetic Concepts. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

This article was originally published on Aug. 22, 2006. It has been updated by Dan Caplinger, who owns shares of General Electric. The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.