Website of the Month: Try XBRL

By Susan B. Anders

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AUGUST 2008 - The SEC has announced a three-year timetable for companies to begin making financial disclosures using Extensible Business Reporting Language (XBRL). XBRL is not just a tool to make regulatory agency activities easier while creating yet another hardship for reporting companies. It is revolutionizing financial reporting, analysis, and education. A partnership between Edgar Online (EDGR), a company specializing in financial regulatory reporting, and RR Donnelley (RRD), a print and electronic document provider, has created a commercial web portal at It is designed to help users learn about XBRL, view sample XBRL financial statements, and convert their company’s financial statements to XBRL.

What Is XBRL?

XBRL is a technology for preparing and transmitting financial data that labels (tags) companies’ financial data with codes from standard lists (taxonomies). XBRL-formatted financial reports allow investors to easily locate and analyze information.

XBRL was first created by a CPA, Charles Hoffman, based on the more complex extensible markup language (XML) used to code documents on the Internet. XBRL was developed by an international consortium ( that includes the AICPA. The technology is available to the public for free; however, approximately half of the more than 50 companies participating in the SEC’s voluntary program have outsourced the data translation activity to companies like Try XBRL.

Although the original purpose of XBRL was to save time and reduce the costs of creating business reports, the SEC and other regulators also stress the increased usability and transparency of financial information. In XBRL reports, each item of data, both numbers and text, is given a unique identifying tag. The interactive data can then be selectively transferred into a spreadsheet or other document for analysis, exchange, or presentation.


While many websites have good information about and access to XBRL tools, Try XBRL is well organized and easy to use and navigate, and is an excellent starting point for accountants who are new to the technology.

The homepage and main pages have a uniform appearance, headed by a banner beneath that is a scrolling graphic and a timeline of SEC rulemaking and XBRL mandates. The three key areas of the website, “Learn,” “Try,” and “File,” are included in the banner, on the homepage’s right-side index, and in the center of the page.

Free Resources

Try XBRL has several features available to the general public. The “Learn” main page offers a brief video that covers XBRL in general, Edgar Online’s commercial I-Metrix financial analysis tool, and RRD’s XBRL processing service. The “Learn” section also has subsidiary pages addressing “Why XBRL?,” “What is XBRL?,” as well as “resources,” “XBRL FAQ,” “glossary,” “ask us a question,” and “XBRL analysis tool.” “Why XBRL?” and “What is XBRL?” provide brief background information, and the glossary defines XBRL-related terms such as taxonomy and tags. The XBRL FAQ answers 21 basic questions, such as “What are the key benefits of XBRL?” The companies participating in the voluntary program are listed under “Who’s filing with SEC Now?” The “XBRL analysis tool,” found under both “Learn” and “Try,” offers a free trial of the I-Metrix tool that allows users to view and download company financial statements and summaries.

The resources page links to a PDF of the SEC’s Proposed Ruling of May 30, 2008, to require companies to submit financial information using interactive data. A PowerPoint slide details the timeline for the comment and ruling period, as well as the deadline for companies to use XBRL reporting. RRD provides a 44-minute webcast and PowerPoint presentation summarizing the SEC proposed rules, covering background information on XBRL and how it works, and addressing RRD’s services to translate and transmit XBRL filings to the SEC.

The resources page also offers several downloadable white papers and other documents, including an 18-page primer on XBRL and interactive data and marketing brochures. Try XBRL provides separate 88-page XBRL reference guides for public companies and investment management companies. These guides include step-by-step implementation prepared by the Financial Executives Research Foundation.

The “Try” section has subsidiary pages for “my company’s financials,” “peer comparison,” “sample RRD financials,” “sample EDGR financials,” and “XBRL analysis tool.” Registration for “my company’s financials” and “peer comparison” requires the company’s “ticker” symbol and peer company symbols, so nonpublic company users cannot obtain complimentary access. Both the RRD and EDGR quarterly income statements, in XBRL format, are available for all users. The SEC also offers a “test drive” of five companies’ interactive data (, although Try XBRL’s is easier for beginners.

When looking at these sample XBRL financial statements, the user will view a webpage presentation resembling an electronic worksheet (Exhibit 1). Placing the cursor over any data cell brings up a pop-up window with a description of the object. Clicking on a data cell takes the user to the originating page in the SEC filing (e.g., the 10-Q), which also provides a link to return to the financials view on the spreadsheet webpage. Selected portions of the data can be copied and pasted into a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet by highlighting the desired data and using the mouse or browser toolbar.

Right-clicking the mouse anywhere on the webpage spreadsheet allows the user to easily export the entire worksheet into an Excel worksheet, with no additional manipulation required (Exhibit 2). The Excel worksheet opens in a separate window from the website and can be saved. Once in Excel, the data can be manipulated in any desired manner.

Welcome to the 21st century of financial reporting!

Susan B. Anders, PhD, CPA, is a professor of accounting at St. Bonaventure University, St. Bonaventure, N.Y.




















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