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Freedom of Information Act Research Guide

A guide to researching using the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) (Feb., 2019)


Before you make a FOIA request, it is best to check that the information you seek is not already available through one of these following resources:

  • Federal Register
  • Agency's website-FOIA requires agencies to post information requested on the agencies' website. For instance, you can search the CIA's Freedom of Information Act Reading Room to read information already released through FOIA requests.
  • Try an informal request first. Contact the agency.
  • If the informal approach doesn't work, try contacting the agency's FOIA officer. ( lists each agency's FOIA officer.
  • A formal request only needs to be a simple letter.
  • Research the agency's FOIA regulations.  Each agency has its own FOIA regulations. For example, the Department of Homeland Security's FOIA Regulations and Management Directive
  • Check the website.


"Make FOIA Requests to Specific Federal Agencies: FOIA applies to all federal agencies.  It does not apply to:

  • The Judicial Branch and Federal Courts
  • The Legislative Branch and Congress
  • State Governments and Courts"  (Our state has the Ohio Open Records Law, ORC § 149.43 et seq.)"


Sample Request Forms

Most agencies post a FOIA Request Form or instructions on their websites.  For example:

Department of Justice: Make a FOIA Request to DOJ;

Department of State's How to Make a FOIA Request;

Central Intelligence Agency's How to File a FOIA Request;

Federal Communications Commission's How to File a FOIA Request;

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement FOIA Request Form;

Other providers of sample FOIA request letters or forms:

Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press provides: