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F&W ECOL 515: Natural Resources Policy (Spring 2021) : Government information

Welcome to the weird, wonderful world of government information!

Government information is great because...

  • You see YOUR government at work
  • Government publications are primary sources
  • You get to participate (sometimes) in creating government information


Government information can be complicated, because

  • Most government publications are NOT written for the general public
  • Most government publications are the results of government processes, many of which are complicated and drawn out


The more you know about government processes, the easier government information is to work with.  If you feel overwhelmed at times, you're not alone!  Often, even government specialists need to look at reference materials, or brush up on their civics to find certain publications.  And it can take specialists a while to find or understand specific materials.

How the federal government is organized

When looking for federal government information, it helps to know a little bit about the government, its organization, and processes.

  • The legislative branch (Congress) makes laws.
  • The executive branch (president, vice-president, Cabinet, agencies) implements laws.
  • The judicial branch (the Supreme Court and the federal court system) interprets laws.

These three branches are interrelated, and form a system of checks and balances (described in Ben's Guide to the U.S. Government.)

Here's another overview of the three branches, from

Reading citations to government publications

Citing government publications

The "Citing Government Publications" section of the U.S. Government Publications at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Research Guide links to general guides to citing government information, as well to resources about citing government information using APA, MLA, Turabian, and Chicago styles.


Beth Harper's picture
Beth Harper
Memorial Library
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Government Information Specialist

Steenbock Librarian

Karen Dunn's picture
Karen Dunn
Steenbock Library;
Science & Engineering Libraries (SEL)

I am happy to schedule consultations!