The SEC’s Edgar database is free and relatively simple. Start with the company search page to find a particular company’s filings, by name or ticker symbol. Use the full text-search page to search across companies for individual words, or for phrases (use quote marks); see the proxy guide’s Introduction for a screen shot. The advanced version of the full-text search page lets you filter by company name, date, type of form and other details. Other search options are listed here.
A variety of paid services makes it easier to zero in on specific filings or find specific words and phrases across filings from multiple companies. All have different features, and some have given news organizations discounted access in the past, for publicity’s sake. Among the companies offering SEC filing services are Morningstar Document Research, AlphaSense and DisclosureNet. If you have Lexis-Nexis access, you may also have access to its very good SEC filings search engine.
Useful guides and referencesOne new service for keeping up with filings is SEC Live, which is still in beta. It offers some different approaches to sorting and viewing filings from specific companies. Perhaps most useful for journalists, it also allows users to highlight and annotate filings — and share those highlights and annotations with custom links that can take readers directly to specific parts of a filing.
The SEC provides a variety of guides on reading different kinds of SEC filings, including a very brief explanation of the 10-Q and how to find it on the agency’s website. For an overview on how to use Edgar, see Investor.gov, from the agency’s Office of Investor Education and Advocacy, which also offers a rundown of the sections of the 10-K (many of which also appear in the 10-Q) and a helpful PDF on How to Read an 8-K.
A number of websites offer tutorials or references on accounting and reading financial statements. Some of the more accessible ones include AccountingCoach, which has multi-part explainers on the income statement, balance sheet, and more, as well as an accounting dictionary.
Journalist’s Resource offers a thumbnail sketch of what to look for in various SEC filings.
The SEC also offers an overview of the securities laws governing the 10-Q and other SEC filings.
Other big law and accounting firms produce similar guides for clients and potential clients, including Ernst & Young’s hefty report, 2013 SEC quarterly reports — Form 10-Q.
Experts and organizations
Many major business law firms have securities-law experts who help companies draft their filings, and who can answer questions about them. Similarly, business and law schools at major universities generally have at least one professor who studies these issues.
The SEC’s public affairs office (202-551-4120) can help put you in touch with people able to answer technical questions about Edgar, filings and filing requirements. They tend to shy away from company-specific questions, and some controversial issues.
The CFA Institute, a trade association for investment professionals holding the Chartered Financial Analyst designation, offers a variety of media resources, including a roster of experts. It also offers a variety of audio webcasts, some of which are free — including How to Read a 10-Q Like an Investment Professional and How to Read and Understand Earnings Releases Like an Investment Pro.
Michelle Leder, who founded the blog at footnoted.com (which I contribute to), picks apart SEC filings, including 10-Qs and 8-Ks. Her Twitter account, @footnoted, is worth following, and she can often help reporters put SEC filings in context (she’s a good quote, too); contact her here. Plus, 10 years after it first came out, her book, “Financial Fine Print,” is still an excellent self-guided course in reading SEC filings, although a number of disclosure rules have changed since publication.
Finally, if you get stuck, confused or just have questions that aren’t addressed here, I’m happy to help. Give me a shout (and tell me your deadline!) through my website’s contact page, or on Twitter at @theofrancis.