BPD Update Online, Fall 2002
Locating and Using Web Based Government Documents for Research
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Carol J. Williams, Associate Editor


As every MSW or PhD student quickly learns, there is a vast array of relevant and useful research data published by the US Government. As recently as a few years ago, access to government documents was a specialized occupation among librarians, who worked for years to learn the intricacies of its operations. Today, with the advent of the World Wide Web, one can obtain this same type of access in hours or minutes rather than years. Best of all, much of this information is now available without charge to anyone with internet access.

The following brief introduction to Government Documents on the Web is provided for the use of BSW educators and students. This article, complete with live links, will be available in BPD Update Online. Please feel free to use this writeup or the Update website in your research or teaching.

General Information

One main point of access is the site "Official Federal Government Information at Your Fingertips"


This site divides available information among the three branches of government: executive, legislative, and judicial. Policy is made at each of these three branches of government, and in the listings below, specific sites will be identified with the branch of government from which they come.

Another main point of access is the U.S. Government Printing Office's site entitled "About the Databases". The link to this site is:


On this single site, one can find links to descriptions of the major government publications, and from there, one can link directly to the documents themselves.

Another very important site, which will help you organize your search of any of the government databases is:


This link takes you to a page that provides instructions for searching each of the databases to be mentioned below. The use of Boolean Operators (and, or, not, adj) is extremely important in the search process, and is described at this link. Just remember the following:

- Education AND elementary means that you will be given only those documents containing both the word "education" and the word "elementary"

- Education OR elementary means that you will be given all documents that contain either the word "education" or the word "elementary".

- Education NOT secondary means that you will be given all documents that contain the word "education" but do not contain the word "secondary".

- Secondary ADJ education means that you will be given all documents that contain the phrase "secondary education" - as well as documents in which the word "education" follows the word "secondary" by 20 characters or less. ("Secondary education" means the same thing as Secondary ADJ education.)


Each of the four links below will take the reader to additional web pages with specific links to online government documents and information specifying what will be found at the linked sites:

Legislative Branch Resources

More Legislative Branch Resources

Executive Branch Resources

Judicial Branch Resources

Access to Government Documents in General

What happens if the above resources fail to get you to the information you want? There is a general site for Government Documents that provides access to online documents from 1994 to the present. It is called the Catalog of US Government Publications.

The Catalog is a search and retrieval service that provides bibliographic records of U.S. Government information products. Use it to link to Federal agency online resources or identify materials distributed to Federal Depository Libraries. Coverage begins with January 1994 and new records are added daily. New Electronic Titles contains online titles that are the latest entries in the Catalog or are in the queue to be added to it.

It is located at:


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