FOIA 101: Tips and Tricks to Make You a Transparency Master

Whether it's your first request or your first request *today,* it never hurts to go over the basics. MuckRock's compiled a lot of FOIA advice over the years, and with this project, it's all in one place.

Basics / Intermediate/Advanced / MuckRock Site Guides / Exemptions / Agency-Specific Advice / Topic-Specific Tips / Presidential Records / Student Resources / State Maps / Ongoing Series

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Never filed a public records request? Not sure what a “FOIA” is or if you know how to pronounce it? Start here.

What’s considered a public record?

Fee categories

First time FOIA request flowchart

Five tips for beginners

Leaks and FOIA FAQ


Appealing fee categories and waivers

Dealing with excessive redactions

FOIA inspiration from #IRE2017

Five lessons from “FOIA Strategies and Tactics”

How to get a faster FOIA response

Reminder that Congress is (increasingly) exempt from FOIA

Tips for better FOIA appeals

Searching for specific sections of records

Sunshine Week 2019 public records reporting round-up

What to do about “Still Interested” letters

What to do when an agency claims not to have records you know it has

What the 2016 FOIA reforms mean for requesters

MuckRock Site Guides

How to explore MuckRock’s public archive of FOIA requests and releases

How to use MuckRock to look at your state’s public records law

Looking for daily #FOIA inspiration? Check out our new site, Muck.Rocks

We want you to build a project with MuckRock

Why can’t I upload my existing FOIA requests to MuckRock?


MuckRock Assignments: Your newest tool for audience feedback

Tap your readers, followers, and fans to help crowdsource your FOIA finds

What we’ve learned helping crowdsource over 10,000 pages of government records


Give the gift of government accountability year-round with MuckRock Crowdfunds

Learn how to crowdfund your request on MuckRock from the pros


Getting the most out of DocumentCloud


For what reasons could an agency withhold or redact your records?

Federal FOIA exemptions overview

The Glomar “neither confirm nor deny” exemption

Agency-Specific Advice


The ultimate guide to searching CIA’s declassified archives

Using exemption codes to find documents hidden in CREST

Department of Defense

Tracking down Department of Defense contracts


A FOIA beginner’s guide to requesting a FBI file

The #AppleVSFBI FOIA Primer

Five ways to use FOIA to explore the FBI’s 110 year history

Getting your own FBI file

How to read an FBI file: A beginner’s guide

Telling the FBI where to search

What is an FBI background check?


A beginner’s guide to FOIA-ing the NSA

Topic Specific Tips

Autopsy reports

Environmental reports

The JFK assassination records

Immigration records

Mueller Report

A guide to the FOIA exemptions in the newly-released version of the Mueller Report

What will the Special Counsel’s Office release?

#NODAPL / pipeline records

Protest records

Private prison records


Presidential Records

Presidential records primer

Trump Administration records

White House’s FOIA exemption

White House visitor logs

Student Resources

College journalist’s FOIA guide

College sports records guide

FOIA 4 Kidz lesson plan

High school journalist’s FOIA guide

State Maps

MuckRock request data shows big difference in backlogs between states

Response deadline map

State by State records guide

Ongoing Series

#FOIAFriday Round-up

FOIA Slack Chats

Requester’s Voice interviews

State of State Public Records Laws

Sunshine Spotlight: Massachusetts

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Image via the National Archives Flickr

190 Articles

How data can power public health investigations — through collaboration

How data can power public health investigations — through collaboration

In a new story with, reporters Dillon Bergin and Betsy Ladyzhets shared how MuckRock collaborates with both experts and other reporters to pursue major data journalism projects.

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Air Quality Access: How local government is planning (or not) to protect your air

Air Quality Access: How local government is planning (or not) to protect your air

In the late 1980s, an area of the Jurupa Valley in Riverside, California began a transformation that would turn it from a community of sprawling dairy farms to hub for enormous warehouses. David Danelski, then an investigative reporter for the Riverside-Press Enterprise, unraveled the details through public records on town planning and found one important document missing from projects approved by county officials for more than a decade: the environmental impact statement. Here are his tips on this and other key records requests you can file.

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Air quality access: Using complaints, violations and fines to pinpoint local polluters

Air quality access: Using complaints, violations and fines to pinpoint local polluters

Freelance journalist Monica Vaughan was reporting on air pollution in California’s San Joaquin Valley when the words of one mother changed her perspective. “I just scan the stories looking for the sentence about whether or not it’s safe to live here. And I can never find that,” Vaughan remembered the woman saying.

In a second guide on air pollution, we bring together advice from reporters like Vaughan and examples that might help you uncover unsafe air in your community. From intial complaints to sustained violations, we give you the tools to ask your local government how it regulates polluters in your area

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