Data Literacy

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What Does Data Literacy Mean?

Data literacy is the ability to gather, read, interpret and discuss quantitative data as a source of information. Data literacy requires core competencies in verbal, numerical, and graphical (visual) literacy, as well as a fundamental understanding of data sources, data constructs and data analytics.


Data literacy has become more important as companies have more data available and software apps have made data analytics more user-friendly. In the past, most organizations relied on skilled data professionals from their information technology (IT) department to derive meaningful information from data. Today, all employees need to possess some level of data literacy and feel confident creating and using charts and spreadsheets.

In today's marketplace, job seekers are often asked to demonstrate they posses the appropriate level of competency for the job they are seeking. During the hiring process, data literacy can be assessed through quizzes or task-oriented tests.

Tests for mobile users typically focus on security and data privacy concerns, while tests for knowledge workers tend to focus more on business capabilities related to fiduciary concerns and data stewardship. Ideally, every data literacy test should help reveal information about a candidate's ability to:

  • Read data – skills include understanding what data is, where it comes from and how specific types of data are visualized best.
  • Work with data – skills include knowing out to create, acquire, clean and manage multiple types of quantitative data.
  • Analyze data – skills include knowing how to filter, sort, aggregate, compare and conduct basic analytic operations on data.
  • Argue with data – skills include knowing what data to use when backing up a point of view.

Techopedia Explains Data Literacy

An empowered workforce that views data as a valuable corporate asset will ensure the company they work for can gain and maintain a competitive advantage. On the flip side, organizations must work hard to combat any misconceptions around what data can or can’t do and build confidence in their ability to make decisions.

According to a recent survey conducted by Unsupervised:

  • 54% of employees are interested in improving their data literacy skills in order to change their position or career.
  • Nearly 7 in 10 employees have watched online tutorials to improve data literacy skills.
  • 6 in 10 employees have pursued data literacy courses/training with no financial assistance from their employer.
  • 74% of employees felt more comfortable talking about data with their colleagues after completing a course or online training session.

How to improve data literacy in the workplace

Organizations can reduce or even eliminate the bottlenecks that often impede data literacy with careful planning. If you are a Chief Data Officer (CDO) and have been tasked with overseeing data literacy at your place of employment, consider the following:

1. Avoid looking for a quick fix.
View data literacy as a long-term strategy and seek gradual improvements over time.

2. Communicate the strategic advantages of making data-driven decisions.
Ensure all employees understand how each data initiative supports specific business goals.

3. Make data literacy training a priority.
Provide employees with easy access to online tutorials and training.

4. Reduce anxiety by keeping analytic workflows as simple as possible.
Understand that making data-driven decisions and using data insights to influence strategy is new for many non-technical employees. When new analtyics tools are introduced too quickly, employees may tend to avoid using them because the experience leaves them feeling anxious and overwhelmed.


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Margaret Rouse
Technology Expert
Margaret Rouse
Technology Expert

Margaret is an award-winning technical writer and teacher known for her ability to explain complex technical subjects to a non-technical business audience. Over the past twenty years, her IT definitions have been published by Que in an encyclopedia of technology terms and cited in articles by the New York Times, Time Magazine, USA Today, ZDNet, PC Magazine, and Discovery Magazine. She joined Techopedia in 2011. Margaret's idea of a fun day is helping IT and business professionals learn to speak each other’s highly specialized languages.