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How to Buy a Stock

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Your first stock trade can be intimidating -- not to mention confusing. You've done your stock homework, you think you've found a winner, and now you're ready to put your new brokerage account to good use and start trading -- but you're not quite sure how to "execute" it. 

Trade "execution" is just a fancy way of referring to a transaction. When you buy or sell stock, you're executing a trade. To "trade," in investing lingo, usually refers to a particular type of investing strategy, so qualifying your use of the term "trade" with the word "execute" lets other investors know that you're talking about a specific transaction.

The actual time it takes to execute your trade can vary from broker to broker and market to market. Generally speaking, trades are, in essence, instant. As a typical investor, you won't notice a particularly perceptible or painful price difference in the time between placing your order and its execution. (The SEC requires that all brokerage firms provide documentation quarterly to the public about the routing of their client orders. These reports are available from the SEC or from your broker.)

When you do place your order, your broker will most likely route your order through their complex trading computer network to get a hold of your shares. In some cases, your order will never leave the broker -- your brokerage firm might want to clear out shares of the company you're buying from its inventory.

Must Read: Warren Buffett's Top 10 Dividend Stocks

How Do You Want to Trade?

You've got a few options when it comes to trading stocks. Buying and selling are the obvious choices. But there are other ways to trade, too: selling short and buying to cover.

Selling short can be done when you have a margin account with your broker. Essentially, you borrow shares of a particular stock and sell them, hoping that the stock will depreciate in value, leaving the difference between the selling price and eventual repurchase price in your pocket. Buying to cover is the term for that eventual repurchase; it closes out a "short position" in a stock.

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