Writing an open records request letter can be a little intimidating. Below are some tips for crafting a letter so that you have a better chance of getting the records you’re seeking (or if you’re denied, getting a proper explanation as to why).
Note: If you’re NOT asking for criminal justice records, you can delete the reference to the CCJRA in the letter template.
- Figure out where to send your request. For cities and counties, the clerk is typically the records custodian. For bigger agencies and governments, a public information officer sometimes serves as the public records contact. Check the government’s website. Make a phone call, if necessary.
- Some governments and agencies want you to use a special form to submit a public records request. That’s fine. But if their form isn’t roomy enough to describe your request, attach your own letter.
- Be specific when you know what you’re looking for, such as a particular document. If you’re looking for information on a particular issue, request “any and all” records related to that issue. The government isn’t required to provide information, but it is required to provide public records that contain information.
- Ask for a cost estimate. If research-and-retrieval charges are cost-prohibitive, you might be able to narrow your request.
- Ask for a fee waiver if the requested records are to be used for a public purpose such as nonprofit activities, journalism or academic research (although fee waivers are discretionary).
- ALWAYS ask for a written explanation if all or any portion of your request is denied, including a citation of each statutory exemption used to justify the withholding of records.
- Ask that public records maintained in digital formats be provided to you via email in digital formats. If the records are maintained in a sortable format, such as a spreadsheet, ask for the records in a sortable format. If the records are maintained in a searchable format, such as a searchable PDF, ask for them in a searchable format.