Once you've found a company you're interested in, how do you go about researching it?

Let's say you're intrigued by Wookiee Cookies (ticker: CHEWY), and 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. Simply give the company a jingle, and ask the investor relations department to send you an investor information package. (You can get one for free!) 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 (or assorted alien life forms) chomping on cookies. Enjoy the feel-good glossy pages, but wend your way to the back of the report, where the numbers will tell you the real story about the business.

The financial statements there 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 whether the company's financial health is improving or declining. Compare the company with its industry peers, too, to see how it stacks up.

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

Don't neglect online resources. Most major companies' websites now feature an investor information section with press releases, financial statements, annual reports, and answers to frequently asked questions. Here are some examples from the Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) website, Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) 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:

To learn more about how to make sense of financial statements, check out our "Crack the Code: Read Financial Statements Like a Pro" how-to guide (also known as an online seminar). More than 90% of those who've taken one of our how-to guides have consistently given them high marks -- and besides, we offer a satisfaction guarantee, or you get your money back.

Microsoft is a Motley Fool Inside Value pick.