The following guide is designed to help you file an effective Right-to-Know (RTK) request.
1. Determine Which Agency to Ask
The first step to filing an effective RTK request is to determine which agency is most likely to have the records you're interested in. For example, if you're interested in seeing records about the cost of snow removal in your local municipality, you should contact that municipality. If you're interested in records related to Pennsylvania's state park system, the best agency would likely be the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
This step is absolutely vital. Asking the wrong agency for records will cost you time.
Because misdirected requests are so common, the OOR has produced a table of Commonly Misdirected Requests which also tells you where you can obtain some of the most commonly requested records. Please review this table before submitting a request.
2. Find the Agency Open Records Officer
Every agency, whether local or Commonwealth, is required by the Right-to-Know Law (RTKL) to appoint an Agency Open Records Officer (AORO). Some agencies refer to this person as a Right-to-Know Officer, but the function is the same. This is the person you should address your request to.
Often, the best way to find the AORO's contact information is on the agency's website. If you can't find it there, or the agency doesn't maintain a website, search the Office of Open Records' (OOR) database of AOROs. If you still can't find the AORO's contact information, simply address it to "Agency Open Records Officer" and send it to the agency's main address.
3. Prepare and Submit the Request
Some agencies have their own RTK Request Forms. Whenever possible, it's best to use the agency's form. But you can always use the OOR's Standard RTK Request Form, which is available here in PDF and Word versions:
You can file a RTK request in four ways:
No matter how you submit the request, be sure to address it to the AORO.
Make sure your request for records is specific and concise. Identify the records you want as specifically as you can, so that an agency can quickly locate them and determine whether they are public record.
Don't ask questions. The RTKL is designed to provide access to records; it does not require agencies to answer questions. For example, do not submit a RTK request saying, "Why didn't my street get plowed until a day after the latest snow storm?" A better RTK request would be, "I'm seeking records regarding the snowplowing schedule in this municipality. If possible, specific records related to the snowplowing schedule for Main Street would be ideal."
Finally, when submitting a RTK request to an agency, always retain a copy for your file. A copy of your RTK request will be necessary if you're denied access to any records and decide to file an appeal to the Office of Open Records. If you don't have a copy of the request, the OOR has no choice but to dismiss the appeal as insufficient.
Printable Standard RTK Request Form (This form can be used to request records from any agency.)