Help - Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Answers to some of our most frequently asked questions are provided here.

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What help is available?

Can I obtain guides to using the data and questionnaires?

Can I use the data to identify individuals, households or organisations?

Can I use your data to trace my ancestors?

What is the most detailed geographical level I can analyse the data at?

What are missing values in survey and census data?

What is survey weighting?

Can I obtain publications?

Can I obtain statistics?

Are there any restrictions on the use of the data?

Can I use data I already hold for a new purpose?

Can my colleague use the data I have for the same purpose (project) as me?

Can I use the data in teaching?

What is harmonisation?

Can I reuse survey questions and instruments?

Why am I not getting the same numbers in my analysis as the published results?

 

What help is available?

Use Help to find information for new users, details of our frequently asked questions and information on how to get in touch with us. 

 

Can I obtain guides to using the data and questionnaires?

User Guides that accompany our data collections contain information on how to use the data, how the data were collected, usually the original questionnaires, and occasionally frequency counts. These are freely available via the data collection records within Discover and, where available, are supplied with orders/downloads. 

 

Can I use your data to identify individuals, households or organisations?

Unless respondents have given their permission, or data are in the public domain, then data are anonymised. When registering, our users agree to preserve at all times, the confidentiality of information pertaining to individuals and/or households in the data collections (where the information is not in the public domain).

They also agree not to use the data to attempt to obtain or derive information relating specifically to an identifiable individual or household, nor to claim to have obtained or derived such information. In addition, they must also preserve the confidentiality of information about, or supplied by, organisations recorded in the data collections.

 

Can I use your data to trace my ancestors?

Some historical datasets that are in the public domain, and listed in Discover, may be of interest to family historians/genealogists.

 

What is the most detailed geographical level I can analyse the data at?

Most survey datasets contain one or more geographical variables e.g. place of residence, place of work. In many data collections the most detailed geographical variable available is  Government Office Region (GOR) which  allows researchers to identify broad regions, for example 'South East', 'North West'. See Government Office Regions on the Office for National Statistics website for more information.

Most survey participants are informed that their responses will only be passed on to researchers under certain conditions, and that the data will be fully anonymised. Adding more detailed geographical variables to the data, although still anonymised, can increase the risk of data disclosure.

However, it is recognised that some researchers need access to more detailed data. To facilitate this and to increase the range of data available for statistical research, a number of more detailed, yet anonymised data collections are available. Since these data pose a higher risk of disclosure, they have additional special conditions attached to them that take the form of a Special Licence. Data Collections with the highest level of detail may only be available through our Secure Access route.

To find out which geographical variables are available in a particular dataset, users should consult the relevant Discover record, particularly the 'Spatial units' information. It is also possible to filter the records by Spatial unit using the relevant facet.

The documentation (freely downloadable via the Discover record) also provides useful information about the data collection, and the Beginner's Guide to Geography available from the Office for National Statistics provides a useful guide to UK geography.

 

What are missing values in survey and census data?

In data with individual cases (for example survey microdata) you may find unusual values where there is no valid value. Values like -9 or 99 might mean:

  • that the question does not apply (DNA). For example, those under 16 years old might not be asked about their marital status, so they should normally be excluded from the analysis of this question.
  • that the question applies but the respondent did not answer. Care should be taken where there is a high number in this group as it might indicate a problem with the quality of the data.

The way in which these should be handled will vary depending on your research question and the population to whom you want your analysis to apply. It is wise to check the documentation to make sure you understand to which groups variables apply and that you understand how missing values have been coded. It is also good practice to tabulate each variable you are interested in using to check that you do not have a high proportion of missing values.

 

What is survey weighting?

Many sample survey datasets contain weights. These weights have been calculated by the data creator in order to correct for problems in the representativeness of the data. This is for a number of reasons:

  • to correct for bias caused by particular groups in the population not responding to the survey. This is called non-response weighting and often uses figures from the census to provide a correct population distribution.
  • to remove bias caused by the use of different selection probabilities. For example, in surveys where only one adult per household is interviewed, those living in households with more than one adult will have a lower probability (or less of a chance) of being selected than those adults living on their own.
  • to make sure that the proportions of people in each age group, sex and region, for example, are the same in the sample as they are in the whole population. This is called calibration weighting (or population based weighting).
  • to gross the survey to population totals, so you can say how many people in the UK watch TV every day for example, rather than just what proportion (or %). This is called grossing.

In all such cases, the samples do not accurately reflect the general population. The purpose of weighting is to adjust the sample so that the sample profile on key variables reflects that of the population. Weighting involves statistically increasing or decreasing the numbers of cases with particular characteristics so that the proportion of cases in the sample is adjusted to the population proportion. For more information on weighting please consult the documentation for your study and our guide to weighting.

 

Can I obtain publications?

The UK Data Service and UK Data Archive are not able to supply copies of the official publications associated with the data we hold, other than the User Guides that accompany each data collection. However, references to publications and journal articles produced by  data creators as well as those produced by secondary analysts are available in the 'Publications' section of the Discover record for each dataset. 

 

Can I obtain statistics?

The survey datasets we supply are usually computer-readable data files that require specialist software, such as SPSS or Stata, to analyse.

A number of datasets are available to registered users to analyse and subset online. Further details are available from Explore online.

In addition, there are other websites and data providers who publish key social statistics. For a list of resources, see our Ready-made UK statistics.

 

Are there any restrictions on the use of the data?

Restrictions on the use of the data are outlined in the End User Licence (EUL) that all users agree to when registering. Users should not attempt to use the data to deliberately compromise the confidentiality of individuals, households or organisations and are required to abide by the current Data Protection Act. The EUL also covers requirements for citation of publications and safeguarding of data. A summary of the EUL is also available.

The sharing of data with other researchers or students and the reuse of data for a new purpose is restricted by the  terms and conditions outlined in the EUL.

Certain datasets/uses may also require depositor permission and details are available in the 'Administrative and access information' section of each Discover record.

 

Can I use data I already hold for a new purpose?

Yes you can, but you will need to register the new use within your account by creating a new usage/project. You should then add the datasets required to this new usage, and accept any special conditions related to the selected datasets. Users of international macrodata can use the downloaded data for any purpose that falls within the terms and conditions of that database without the requirement to register a use of the data.

 

Can my colleague use the data I have for the same purpose (project) as me?

Yes, but your colleague must first be registered with the UK Data Service. You should then log in to your account and add them to the relevant usage/project. You will need to know their email address to do this.

Your colleague must then log in to their account, select the relevant usage/project and accept any special conditions related to the selected datasets. 

There is no requirement for users of International macrodata to register a use of data, but all users must access the data using their own username and password and agree to any additional terms and conditions of use.

 

Can I use the data in teaching?

Most data in the collection can be used successfully in teaching situations and students can be licenced individually or, in a class situation, using a simplified process. We have web pages dedicated to teaching with data and have produced cut-down teaching datasets to facilitate this.

 

What is harmonisation?

The UK has a wide range of government surveys that provide sources of social and economic information. These surveys were designed at different times, to meet different needs, and commissioned by a range of departments. Consequently, the surveys were developed mostly in isolation from each other. This resulted in a lack of cohesion. Differences arose in concepts, definitions, design, fieldwork and processing practices, or “inputs”, and also in the way results are released, or “outputs”.

A cross-government programme of work, supported by the Government Statistical Service (GSS) is looking into harmonising inputs and outputs. This is known as harmonisation and a small team (the Harmonisation Team) at the Office for National Statistics leads this programme of work. The aim is to make it easier for users to draw clearer and more robust comparisons between data sources.

Much work has already been done with the harmonisation of the Government social surveys and work is now taking place to look at harmonising business statistics and administrative data. The Harmonisation Team has identified several business and administrative data initiatives occurring across the GSS that harmonisation can facilitate and is working with colleagues to develop harmonised principles as part of the delivery of these programmes.

For more information on the GSS programme of harmonisation, please visit the Harmonisation pages on the GSS website.

 

Can I reuse survey questions and instruments?

All questions and instruments are copyright protected with copyright residing with the organisation who commissioned, designed or conducted the survey.

In practice, many copyright holders hold the view that their questionnaires, by virtue of appearing on this site, are in the public domain and available for re-use with appropriate acknowledgement. Nevertheless, since each copyright holder has ultimate responsibility for decisions about reuse of part or all of their questionnaire(s), our advice is to contact the copyright holder directly for permission to reproduce questionnaire text for any use.

Some questionnaires contain measurement scales, batteries of questions or classifications to measure specific conditions, for example disability, cognitive ability and well-being. These instruments are copyright to the institution or company that produced them and must not be reproduced without permission. If in doubt, please refer enquiries to the survey manager of the questionnaire you are using.

For those interested in further reading, the UK Data Service has produced a guide to copyright in the reuse of existing resources for data creators.

 

Why am I not getting the same numbers in my analysis as the published results?

You may not always get exactly the same numbers as the published results because of small things you may have done differently in your data preparation. However, one would expect your results to be very similar to the published results. If your findings are significantly different there could be a number of explanations:

  • you may not be comparing the same variables
  • you may not have dealt with missing values in the same way as the published results
  • there may be a filter variable to be applied (a filter variable is used where analysis is performed on a subset of the data, for example, the analysis may have been run on selected ages, such as the working aged population only)
  • there may be a weighting variable to be applied
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