How to Submit an Open Records Request

How to Submit an Open Records Request

Each state has their own individual laws for record requests and open meeting requirements.

Nov 4, 2021 8 min read

“Sunshine laws” give citizens access to government documents and meetings. “Open records laws” detail the records, documents and information that state agencies and local governments must disclose if requested. “Open meetings laws” establish the rights the public has to listen to debate and watch the decision-making process of their elected officials. For federal agencies, records requests are governed by the Freedom of Information Act ( Each state has their own individual laws for record requests and open meeting requirements.

TIP: Your state may offer trainings and guides to educate citizens about the specific laws in their state, best practices for making requests, and resources for citizens when agencies fail to comply with requests. See a list of resources below.

6 Steps to Making an Open Record Request:

  1. MAXIMIZE AVAILABLE RESOURCES: Before you make your request, see whether the materials you seek have already been made publicly available on the agency or local government’s website. That can often save time and work!
  2. IDENTIFY THE CORRECT RECIPIENT: Identify the correct government agency or entity to submit your request to. If you are looking for a list of textbooks used in your child’s class, you will want to submit the request to that school (the regional planning commission won’t have the list!). There may be a specific staff member that processes open record requests, such as a secretary or clerk. Identifying that person can help ensure your request is processed quickly!
  3. BE SPECIFIC: Be specific as possible about the type of the record(s) you are requesting, and the time window when the records would have been created. Some examples:
    • school district budgets for the last five years
    • Mr. Smith's outgoing and incoming emails for March 26-27, 2021
    • materials used in teacher trainings during the 2020-2021 school year
    • Social Emotional Learning (SEL) curriculum materials for the 2019-2020 school year
    • Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) training materials for the 2020-2021 school year
    • grant applications or awards in the last three years
  4. CONFIRM RECEIPT: Emailing your request is generally best practice for a quick response. If necessary, you can require an email-read receipt or mail the request via certified mail to confirm the date your request was received
  5. FEES AND RESPONSE TIME: States typically require the agency or local government to respond within a set number of days. Depending on your state’s laws, the agency or local government may be allowed to charge a fee covering the cost of staff time to fulfill a request or to cover copying costs if physical copies were requested. Ask the agency if there is a fee when making your request, or for them to notify if the fee will be above a certain amount (i.e.$50).
  6. FOLLOW UP: A little kindness can go a long way! Be sure to thank the staff that assisted in fulfilling your request. If your request has passed the statutory deadline for response, politely follow up.


[Your Name]
[Street Address]
[City, State ZIP Code]


[Name of Custodian of Records]
[Agency Name]
[Street Address]
[City, ST ZIP Code]

Dear Public Official:

Pursuant to the [your state’s public records law], I would like to obtain a copy of the following public records: [Be sure to describe the records sought with enough detail, or as the statute indicates, for the public agency to understand the request and be able to respond.]

I understand if I seek a copy of this record, there may be a fee to fulfill this request. Could you please inform me of any costs prior to completing the request?

I can be reached at [phone number and/or email address]. According to the statute, the [name of the government entity you are requesting from] is allowed [XX] days to respond to this request.

If you choose to deny the request, please respond in writing and state the statutory exception authorizing the withholding of all or part of the public record.

Thank you for your assistance on this matter.


Resources for Making Open Record Requests: