No legalese or magic language is required. Simply state that your letter/email is an open records requests. Then ask for the documents you want. Be as specific as possible and be sure and include a time period for your search (eg all documents since 2002).
You will be charged for copying ($.10 a page) and other expenses. Include your name, address, email, fax, and phone number. I have received a few courtesy calls from a Public Information Officer to help with my request. They are generally helpful and courteous.
Sample Dallas SWAT request
My open records requests are very minimal. Here is my Dallas SWAT request.
Please accept this email as an open records request. Please send any documentation, including police reports, that detail any situation in which the Dallas Police, or Dallas SWAT went into a residence to serve a warrant AND the officers either entered the wrong home, or there was mistake in address on the warrant.
In sum, I am looking for reports on how often Dallas PD the SWAT unit have attempted to enter or have entered the wrong house with a search warrant. Please limit the search to documents created on or after January 1, 2002.
That's it. If you want emails, be sure and ask for them. If you want police reports, ask for those. Asking for "all documents" is good, but the PIO may overlook something if you aren't specific.
The Attorney General
If the government wants to keep from disclosing information they will seek an Attorney General Opinion. The government will argue that certain documents are protected by statute or case law from being disclosed. This is a common delay tactic and does not always signal you have uncovered the next Watergate.
You do not have to file any response with the AG. Simply wait for their decision. You can appeal if they rule against you. I never have.
"A fundamental premise of American democratic theory is that government exists to serve the people. ... Public records are one portal through which the people observe their government, ensuring its accountability, integrity, and equity while minimizing sovereign mischief and malfeasance" -- Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Conner
"Let the people know the facts, and the country will be safe." -- Abraham Lincoln
"Everything secret degenerates, even the administration of justice; nothing is safe that does not show how it can bear discussion and publicity." -Lord Acton