Serving Citizens' Needs: Minimizing Hurdles to Accessing Government Information Online

Authors: Eszter Hargittai

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Citation: Hargittai, E. (2003). Serving Citizens' Needs: Minimizing Hurdles to Accessing Government Information Online. IT & Society. 1(3), 27-41.


With the rapid spread of the Internet across society, government institutions are taking advantage of digital technology to distribute materials to citizens. Is merely having a Web site enough, or are there certain usability considerations site creators must keep in mind to assure efficient public access to online materials This project looked at typical people’s ability to locate various types of content online, in particular, their ability to find tax forms on the Web. Findings suggest that people look for content in a myriad of ways, and there is considerable variance in how long people take to complete this online task. Users are often confused by the ways in which content is presented to them. In this paper, two common sources of confusion in users’ online experiences with locating tax forms online are distinguished: (1) URL confusion, and (2) page design layout. Ways are also suggested to decrease these two sources of frustration, yielding less exasperating and more productive user experiences.


  • Introduction
  • Digital Inequality
  • Study Design and Methodology
  • Searching for Tax Forms Online
  • Sources of Confusion and Frustration
  • Conclusion


Special thanks to Paul DiMaggio for his insightful comments throughout this project, Stan Katz for his ongoing support, Erica Field and John Robinson for helpful discussions, Susan Lutz and Inna Barmash for their assistance with data collection, Hank Farber and Betty Leydon for their logistical help, and the many people who took time from their busy schedules to participate in this study.

Generous support from the Markle Foundation and NSF grants #SES9819907 and #ITR0086143 is kindly acknowledged. The project has also been supported in part by a grant from the Russell Sage Foundation and through a grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts to the Center for Arts and Cultural Policy Studies, Princeton University. and the The author is also grateful to the Dan David Foundation for its support.

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