Accessing Public Records
Keeping records is a duty of federal, state, and county offices. In the state of Washington, as in other states, both the types of records and the access to records that shall be maintained and considered public are spelled out in law. In Washington State, the law is contained in the Revised Code of Washingtin (RCW).
Although many types of public records are available online through the agencies that produce and maintain those records, the majority still are only available in paper.
The first step in locating a record is identifying which agency holds the kinds of records you're interested in and then visiting their websites to see if they offer access to public records online or if they require requests to be made by other means (e.g. phone, mail, fax, in person).
Agencies commonly serving as sources of public records are:
Public Records and Libraries
Libraries typically do not have any more access to public information than you do. However, libraries do subscribe to specialized databases that help with some kinds of proprietary information, such as corporate & industry profiles. See the UW Libraries Research Guides for help identifying which databases we have access to. Email Jessica, Communication Studies Librarian, if you need help!
Private Data and Records
These resources are created by third-party companies. Often they provide basic data for free and then charge for the release of more detailed information. Examples include: online phone directories, background checks, etc. Not sure if you're looking at data from a private company? Check the url for the website you're looking at (.gov, .edu, .mil versus .com).
You should use records from reliable sources which may mean contacting government offices directly.
Reynolds, Denise. Whole Fat Dairy Foods May Decrease Diabetes Risk. Calorielab. http://calorielab.com/labnotes/20101221/whole-fat-dairy-foods-may-decrease-diabetes-risk/
Most publications will lead you to additional information on a topic. Sometimes this requires a bit of detective work, but you can usually take the information provided - research studies mentioned in the text of a news story; citations listed in the reference list of a book; footnotes included in a Wikipedia entry - and work your way back to the original publications.
In your community:
Consider where experts may be in your community - association, business, government, hospital, organization, university, etc.
Explore their websites for:
When all else fails, call the organization's office and ask if anyone is available to speak to you about _____________.
Through local news:
Search the archives of your local news - newspapers, radio, TV - for stories related to your topic. Which experts were interviewed in those stories? Start with the Access World News database available from the UW Libraries. See the Libraries' News research guide for more databases.
Through scholarly publications:
If you find a scholarly journal article related to your topic, chances are the author is an expert in that subject. Want to be sure? Check the author's credentials. See how many people have cited the article using Google Scholar or Web of Science If an article has been cited by many other authors, it'is likely that the original article is significant to the area of research.