Survey Measures of Web-Oriented Digital Literacy

Authors: Eszter Hargittai

Citation: Hargittai, E. (2005). Survey Measures of Web-Oriented Digital Literacy. Social Science Computer Review. 23(3), 371-379.


This article presents survey measures of Web-oriented digital literacy to serve as proxies for observed skill measures, which are much more expensive and difficult to collect for large samples. Findings are based on a study that examined users’ digital literacy through both observations and survey questions making it possible to check the validity of survey proxy measures. These analyses yield a set of recommendations for what measures work well as survey proxies of people’s observed Web-use skills. Some of these survey measures were administered on the General Social Survey 2000 and 2002 Internet modules making the findings relevant for the use of existing large-scale national data sets. Results suggest that some composite variables of survey knowledge items are better predictors of people’s actual digital literacy based on performance tests than measures of users’ self-perceived abilities, a proxy traditionally used in the literature on the topic.


  • Introduction
  • In-depth measures of online skill
  • Survey measures of digital literacy
  • Digital literacy measures on the General Social Survey
  • The validity of self-reported ratings of DL items
  • The relationship of behavioral and survey measures of digital literacy
  • Composite measures of digital literacy
  • Survey measures of digital literacy as predictors of actual online skill
  • Conclusion


I thank Paul DiMaggio, Scott Lynch and Peter Miller for helpful discussions. I am also indebted to Ron Anderson and the anonymous referees for their valuable suggestions for improving the manuscript. Generous support from the Markle Foundation and NSF grant #IIS0086143 is kindly acknowledged. The project has also been supported in part by a grant from the Russell Sage Foundation. I am also grateful to the Dan David Foundation for its support.

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