IRS publications are informational booklets written by the Internal Revenue Service that give taxpayers detailed guidance on tax issues. IRS publications don't provide specific, line-by-line instructions for filling out tax forms – each form has a separate set of instructions for that purpose – but they do provide answers on nearly every tax topic you're likely to face.
Identifying IRS publications
Every publication is identified by a number and usually, a name. They start with Publication 1, "Your Rights as a Taxpayer," and as of 2014, the highest-numbered publication was 14654, which covers certain retiree medical benefit plans.
A publication's number does not correspond to its relative importance or usefulness. For example, Publication 901 covers the effect of income tax treaties between the United States and other countries, information that is useful to only a small number of taxpayers. Publication 936, meanwhile, discusses interest on home mortgages, one of the most popular tax deductions available. Numbers are simply assigned to publications in the order they are developed.
IRS publication content
Some IRS publications cover a broad range of issues, while others are very tightly focused. For example, Publication 17, "Your Federal Income Tax," is more than 200 pages long and addresses nearly all of the common questions and situations that individual taxpayers face, while Publication 1600, "Disaster Losses," is just a two-page sheet describing IRS assistance available to victims of natural disasters.
IRS publication updates
The IRS regularly updates its publications to keep up with changes in tax law. Some need to be updated as soon as new tax legislation passes, while others remain unchanged for years. The revision date will usually appear on the cover of the publication.
Some publications are removed from circulation when they're no longer needed, but the publication library is never renumbered. That means, for example, that the popular Publication 970, "Tax Benefits for Education," will always carry that number.
Accessing IRS publications
All IRS publications can be downloaded online directly from the IRS website in portable document format, also known as PDF. The IRS always has the latest version of each publication available online so there is no need to sort through various versions of the same publication.
Many of the most popular publications are also available in HTML form on the IRS website, with hyperlinks that allow you to navigate quickly within the publication. You can also ask the IRS to mail you copies of publications.
IRS publication languages
All IRS publications are available in English with many also translated into Spanish. A small number of the publications are also available in other languages.