Once you've found a company you're interested in, how do you go about researching it? Let's say you're intrigued by Wookie Cookies Inc. (ticker: CHEWY). Simply give the firm a jingle and ask the investor relations department to send you an investor information package. (They're free!) Say you'd like to receive the most recent annual report, the latest 10-K and 10-Q reports, any recent press releases, and any available analyst reports. Alternatively, you can save a few trees (and a few days) by gathering the information online at sites such as the Fool's Quotes & Data area.

The annual report will probably feature glossy photos of smiling customers chomping on cookies. Enjoy the feel-good glossy pages, but make your way to the back of the report, where the numbers will tell the real story about the business.

The financial statements will tell you how quickly sales are growing, how the company is financing its growth, how much profit it's making, and much more. Pay attention to trends to see if the firm's financial health is improving or declining. Compare the company with its industry peers to see how it stacks up.

Remember that you can improve your chances of success if you're actually a consumer of Wookie Cookies and are familiar with the company's offerings, competitors, and competitive position. Also, talk about the business with other investors, perhaps in an investment club.

Don't neglect online resources. Most major companies these days have websites that feature an investor information section, with press releases, financial statements, annual reports, and answers to frequently asked questions (sometimes abbreviated as FAQs). Here are examples, from the Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) website, Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) website, Home Depot (NYSE:HD) website, Harley-Davidson (NYSE:HDI) website, and PepsiCo (NYSE:PEP) website.

There's much more to know about how to evaluate companies. Here are a few more resources for you:

The following articles can enlighten you even more on the topic of value and the evaluation of companies:

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