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Government Resources: Research Tips

Tips for Locating Government Information

Determine the agency or agencies responsible for the subject being researched. Be aware that responsibility for a specific subject may be shifted to a different agency over time. Even if you're not actually looking for statistics, searching in the Statistical Abstract of the U.S. or the Florida Statistical Abstract for the subject can be a quick method of determining the agency because the footnotes for the statistical tables provide source information. Once you know which agency handles the subject, go to the agency website to search for additional information. On the agency website, look for section headings in the website for publications, reports, data, research, etc.

Determine the title(s) of the publication(s). Be aware that the titles of preliminary reports, executive summaries, supplemental reports, final reports, and reports from different years may vary significantly from each other.

Search newspapers and news sources, particularly for local information. Once you have a date (e.g., "at last night's commission meeting"), you might need to search the minutes and agendas for additional details. Don't overlook agenda packets because the minutes frequently provide only the actions taken on items covered in more detail in the material distributed prior to the meeting.

Look for older information. Really recent information may not be indexed or cited, but once you determine the correct source for information from earlier years it may make it easier to locate the updates. Realize that the most recent available information may be several years old. Many studies which provide very detailed information are not conducted annually.

Search different levels of government. Local data may be difficult to locate on a city or county website, but may appear in aggregated reports at the state level. Conversely, updates to information found in a state report may be available at the local level. Local projects may have been funded by the state or federal government and final reports may appear on the funding agencies' websites.