A prospectus is a formal document that is required by and filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission that provides details about an investment offering to the public. A prospectus is filed for offerings of stocks, bonds, and mutual funds. The document can help investors make more informed investment decisions because it contains a host of relevant information about investment security.
Companies that wish to offer bonds or stock for sale to the public must file a prospectus with the Securities and Exchange Commission as part of the registration process. Companies must file a preliminary and final prospectus, and the SEC has specific guidelines as to what's listed in the prospectus for various securities.
The preliminary prospectus is the first offering document provided by a security issuer and includes most of the details of the business and transaction. However, the preliminary prospectus doesn't contain the number of shares to be issued or price information. Typically, the preliminary prospectus is used to gauge interest in the market for the security being proposed.