Try the informal approach first

Anyone seeking information from government documents should first try to obtain the documents through informal means. The government may agree to supply all or part of them on the spot. Assuming you know with reasonable specificity which records you want and which agency has them, call the public information or press officer at the agency involved, identify yourself as a news reporter, researcher or scholar, and ask for the information. It might be helpful to offer some explanation of why you want the documents but you are not required to give one.

If you are turned down, try the agency’s FOIA officer, who may tell you how to obtain the documents you want without filing a formal FOIA request. If necessary, use your right to make a formal FOIA request as leverage in your efforts to persuade the agency to release the information you are seeking informally. Make a point of telling any officials with whom you speak that you intend to make a formal request. Remember that only a written FOIA request — not an informal, oral request — will place the agency under a legal duty to act on it.