Web Research

Accurate news articles, academic research, meeting agendas and related governmental websites can add context and background to your documentation.

Here are some avenues for further exploration:

The basics

Start with an online search of keywords related to the department holding your meeting. Timely news articles about City Council can be searched with the appropriate search terms, for example, “Detroit City Council” AND the names of specific council members, i.e. “Councilman James Smith” OR a combination of topics related to your interest, i.e. “Alderman Joe Moore Chicago City Council participatory budgeting”.

Seek out primary sources and trusted news outlets for the most up-to-date and accurate information.


Search Documenters.org for meeting notes and social media posts on a range of local departments.

Campaign finance disclosure

Campaign finance disclosures detail contributions, receipts, expenditures and debts for local politicians, political candidates committees and lobbyists. All 50 states regulate the way campaign money is spent, but the rules vary dramatically. The most common features include 1) disclosure and reporting requirements, 2) contribution limits to campaigns, and 3) rules for public financing of elections.

To search campaign finance disclosures in Illinois visit www.elections.il.gov.

Municipal voting records

Each year county and city officials spend hundreds of hours voting in public meeting sessions. These votes are recorded but often not easily accessible by members of the public. Furthermore, the responsibility of publishing voting records varies by region—falling at times on the local news industry, academia or the governing agency itself.

Departmental budgets

Cities across the country have been making their budgets more transparent by creating online data portals and posting spending data online. In the best case scenario, budget information is clearly marked on official city and county hubs. In the unlikely case that your local municipality does not make budgetary information publicly available, you may file a Freedom of Information Act request (see more info in Freedom of Information Act Requests).


  1. Find your municipality’s official website
  2. Use quote marks (“ “) to locate a specific phrase verbatim (i.e. “Mark Murray” voting history)
  3. Use the minus sign (-) to remove results from your search (i.e. “Philadelphia crime -violence”)
  4. Use CTRL +F to find a specific word or phrase on a webpage
  5. Use “wildcard search” characters like asterisks (*) and question marks (?) to widen your searches (i.e. search results for “educat*” will include educate, educated, education, educational or educator)
  6. Use multiple search engines
  7. Review quality news content related to your topic (quality news outlets will have a track record of excellence, and a quality story will often feature a byline, links to source materials, multiple sources and good spelling/grammar)
  8. Taking notes? Copy/paste or hyperlink relevant webpages for reference