When buying your first fund, start with one of the larger fund families. Why? Giants such as Fidelity, Vanguard, and T. Rowe Price are closely monitored by the media and by investors. Intense public scrutiny has made it difficult for these shops to wield really poor players for too long, and while it's unlikely their funds will top the charts year in and year out, they're generally reliable.
Going with one of the bigger families has another benefit: Your first fund may not be your last fund, and the big families boast a range of offerings, from domestic large- and small-company funds to international options; taxable and tax-free bond offerings to single-sector funds. It's possible to build an entire portfolio from just one family.
But don't confuse big with diversified. PIMCO, for example, is one of the industry's largest fund families. While the group does offer some equity funds, it's made its name as a bond-fund manager.
To see how much variety a family offers, type in the name of the family in our Quotes/Reports box on Morningstar.com's home page. You'll find a list of Fund Reports for the family's funds. Go through some of the reports to get an idea of the types of funds the group offers or visit the fund family's Web site.