Editor's note: Welcome to "Booyah Breakdown," an explanation of certain terms and topics Jim Cramer discusses on his "Mad Money" TV show. Feel free to ask a question if you're confused about something Cramer talks about, but please keep in mind that we do not provide advice on specific stocks.

As a woman who's on the dating scene, I would like everyone to just cut to the chase. If you have an artificial leg, just tell me. Criminal record? 'Fess up. An obsession with the Bon Jovi? Just spill the beans already.

Life is too short, and at some point, I am going to find out (I am a journalist, for goodness sake!)

So just be honest!

I wish I could say the same to companies reporting this earnings season. Just be upfront! Why must we go through the charade of having to figure out what the numbers really mean and what management really is trying to say?

Earnings releases aren't policed, meaning the company's auditors don't have to issue an opinion on the numbers. While many upstanding companies do have their auditors confirm the numbers, many do not.

So if no one's really looking, companies have the ability to paint a very pretty picture. There's no need to mention the bad stuff if you don't have to, right?

That is precisely why Rule No. 6 from Cramer's book is to "Please, please, do your homework." Listen to the conference calls. Go to the company's Web site. Read the research. Read the news stories. Everything's available on the Web. Everything."

That means you have be skeptical. Ask questions. And only then can you make some really good informed decisions. For instance, this past Tuesday, Cramer said was looking at United Technologies ( UTX). He said, "I pored over the numbers, listened to the conference call and don't mind saying that they posted the best quarter I've ever seen so far in the early stages of this earnings season."

He did his homework and made an educated decision. Because otherwise, earnings season can be a whole lot of smoke and mirrors.

To watch Tracy Byrnes' video take of this column, click here .

Mind the GAAP

Investors can frequently be tripped up by the GAAP vs. "pro forma" earnings game that companies play.

GAAP stands for generally accepted accounting principles. Those are the accounting rules that all companies are expected to follow when calculating their final profit figures. But these rules often require companies to take big hits to their bottom line that many companies argue aren't a true reflection of their day-to-day progress.

So management takes them out and comes up with its own version. These are often called "pro forma," "non-GAAP" or "adjusted" results. While these alternative figures can, in fact, be helpful in evaluating a company's true operating performance, investors should note that there are no rules in creating these numbers.

Anything that management regards as one-time or irrelevant to the core operations is generally excluded from the pro forma numbers. So don't expect to see restructuring charges or certain types of amortization in there. But be wary of numbers that companies call "one-time" items, but show up quarter after quarter.

The silver lining is that there has to be some sort of reconciliation somewhere to explain to you what the difference is between the adjusted and the GAAP number. So you need to go through that carefully and understand what management decided to pull out.

While it would be nice if everyone just used the GAAP numbers for conformity's sake, it's at least important that the pro forma number takes out the same items quarter after quarter, says Charles Rotblut, senior market analyst at Zacks Investment Research. Then at least you're comparing apples to apples within the company. If the rules surrounding the pro forma numbers keep changing, it would be way too confusing for investors.

Be a Voyeur

Go through these releases carefully. When looking at the earnings per share, determine if it beat, missed or exceeded analysts' expectation. That's the first thing the market's going to react to. Keep in mind, that doesn't mean Wall Street's number was right to begin with, but unfortunately, that's the way it works.

Analysts' estimates are usually compiled by a financial firm such as Thomson First Call or Zacks and then averaged. That's how you get the "consensus" or target number that's frequently referenced. Big note: Analysts' estimates typically follow the companies' pro forma or adjusted numbers, so that's usually what you want to compare. That's not always the case though, so make sure to check what the analysts' figures include.

Next, go through the revenue numbers, and also make sure the company is controlling its costs. And pay close attention to the company's "guidance" -- that's code for "here's what we expect to happen in the future." If management is cautious or hints at a slowdown in growth, that will affect the stock.

Now keep in mind, an earnings release is usually a single piece of paper, so there's not enough space to tell the whole story.

That's why Cramer insists you get on the company's conference call. On the conference call, there's plenty of time to talk about everything -- including that GAAP vs. pro forma stuff -- and sometimes it's just easier to say something out loud than have the legal team attempt to articulate it on paper.

So go to the company's Web site. There, you'll either get a number to call in, or you can catch it live on the Web. Either way, listen in. You'll learn more on that call than any analyst's report.

That's because you can listen to the tone of the execs, says Rotblut. And just like you can tell if your date is being truthful or being a blowhard, you can do the same as you listen on the call.

Granted, only the analysts can ask questions, but you can eavesdrop and gauge the situation at the company on your own.

So use all the different facets of earnings season to evaluate your stocks, and make sure the reasons you originally bought the shares still holds true.

Only then can you decide if it's worth keeping the relationship going -- or if that Bon Jovi record collection is just a bit too much for you.
Tracy Byrnes is an award-winning writer specializing in tax and accounting issues. As a freelancer, she has written columns for wsj.com and the New York Post and her work has appeared in SmartMoney and on CBS MarketWatch. Prior to freelancing, she spent four years as a senior writer for TheStreet.com. Before that, she was an accountant with Ernst & Young. She has a B.A. in English and economics from Lehigh University and an M.B.A. in accounting from Rutgers University. Byrnes appreciates your feedback; click here to send her an email.