I ran across a funny graphic posted by blogger Edward Vielmetti on AnnArbor.com (See posting of his FOIA Friday blog) playing on “Google classic.” Edward then lists great tips for getting public records, with my favorites (including some of my own input):
1. Get the information through other means if you can – FOIA is often the slowest possible way to get information. Sometimes it’s already posted online, or an official might be able to help you get it. Journalists have learned to get information through other means than FOIA, likely resulting in the fact that only 5 percent of FOIA requests are submitted by journalists.
2. Know what you want before you ask. The more specific you can be the better.
3. FOIA is expensive. Redaction costs, search fees and copy costs can make information retrieval spendy. Make sure to ask for a waiver if you are gathering information with a public purpose (as a journalist, researcher, etc.). If the agency doesn’t respond within the statutory time, get your copy fees waived.
4. Too many people give up. Few people appeal denials, but often (as much as a third of the time, according to one study), a quick appeal letter can get you some or all of what you asked for. See RCFP for a sample appeal letter.
5. Get to know people. Develop relationships with people within an agency to speed things along. Treat people with respect and courtesy.