Wednesday, August 02, 2006


Federal Freebies for Writers

From my 2003 article in The Writer - links updated 2006.

As a writer, you probably spend more time doing research for your articles and books than actually writing them. But in your pursuit of facts are you overlooking one of the largest, cheapest, and most accessible sources of information around -- the U.S. government?

Don't let your relationship with Uncle Sam be a one-way affair, with you doing all the giving and getting nothing in return. Just take a look at this sample of free or nearly-free government resources that writers can take advantage of to cut down on research time and cost.

The Bureau of the Census

The census is more than some guy who shows up on your doorstep every ten years asking how many kids you have. Every year the U.S. Bureau of the Census conducts nearly 100 surveys that supplement the decennial census, and much of this census information is available on the Internet or at depository libraries nationwide. Use free census data to liven up your queries and articles with facts and figures, or to add credibility to the market research section of your book proposals. For example, in your article on the economy, you can mention that according to the 2002 Census, the poverty rate is 10.8 percent. Add interest to your query about e-commerce by mentioning that U.S. retail e-commerce reached $34 billion in 2001 -- an increase of 22 percent over 2000.

Expert information is just a phone call away with a booklet called U.S. Census Bureau Contacts, which lists experts on any census topic you can imagine plus their phone numbers.

Press Office: 301-763-3030
U.S. Census Bureau Contacts

The Securities and Exchanges Commission

Business writers rejoice: If a company you're writing about is a publicly traded company, you can get information on the business, from how much profit it made last year to where its divisions are located, from the Securities and Exchanges Commission. Publicly traded companies must submit several filings annually to the SEC, which are then made available to the public at no charge.

To review a company's filings, go to the SEC's EDGAR (Electronic Data Gathering, Analysis, and Retrieval) website, which provides free access to the SEC filings of thousands of public companies in the U.S. Or, for the Net-phobe, the Public Reference office will photocopy any documents you need for a mere $.26 per page.

Public Reference: 202-942-8090

The Library of Congress

The Library of Congress serves as the research arm of Congress and is recognized as the national library of the United States. The Library, located in Washington, D.C., is open to everyone over high school age gratis.

But for writers who are too busy to trek to the Capitol to check out the Library's 20 million volumes and pamphlets, the Library offers an online "Ask a Librarian" service. Fill out the form with your question and a librarian will get back to you within five days. Some topics, such as business and science, even offer hours when you can "chat" with a librarian online.

The Library of Congress also has a photo-duplication service, which will search the Library to find what you need and send you photocopies. You pay for copying, copyright fees and postage ($12 minimum). Don't expect instant gratification, though; it can take from four to six weeks to get the information you need, though rush service (within 10 days) is available for a 100 percent mark-up.

Photoduplication Service: 202-707-5640 or
Ask a Librarian

Federal Citizen Information Center

Need article ideas for a consumer pub? Or maybe you're researching an article on health, housing, money, or another consumer topic. At the Federal Citizen Information Center, writers can access hundreds of publications, information on the latest product recalls and scams, updates of consumer news from various Federal agencies, and a calendar of consumer-related events.


National Science Foundation

Here's a heads-up for all you science and technology writers out there: The National Science Foundation initiates and supports scientific research in several fields, including biology, information science/computers, social science, environmental science, and math. On the NSF website, each department offers a wealth of press releases that are ripe for the plucking by savvy writers. One recent release, for example, tells about how researchers used tiny, wireless sensors to test for stress along the famous crack in the Liberty Bell. What a cool article idea! Each press release includes contact information so you can call for additional info or set interviews.

SIDEBAR: How to Find Government Publications and Resources

The United States Government Manual

The United States Government Manual is a guide to the agencies and offices that make up the federal government.

Government Publications

The Government Publications database lets you retrieve catalogued records of government titles that are available through the Federal Depository Library Program. Once you find a record that interests you, the database will locate the nearest library that carries that item.

The Government Information Locator Service (GILS)

GILS helps you identify and reach publicly available Federal information resources, including both electronic and non-electronic sources.

According to Shaun Rein, though the overall retail sales in China in 2009 would fall because of the financial turbulence, ecommerce is still going to boom. he said "We're expecting a 20 percent growth in 2009, and we think it's actually going to be one of the strongest sectors in China this year because of the financial crisis".
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