Data, data everywhere

ONS releases contain a veritable plethora of great data, all of which act as a barometer of life in the UK. These releases are fantastic for our regular and expert users, who can quickly extract hundreds of datasets and detailed analysis on their chosen topics. Often, though, finding specific data can be something of a nightmare for non-expert and casual users who may only visit the website occasionally. Like me, they can be left feeling overwhelmed and confused about where to start and whether they’re even looking in the right place.  For example, if you wanted to know the proportion of women who were childless at age 45 (it’s 1 in 5, by the way), would the first place you looked be in the release titled ‘Cohort Fertility, England and Wales’? Probably not, even though this is exactly where you would find the statistic.

The role of the Editorial Team in Digital Publishing is to try and circumnavigate mountains of data and convoluted release titles to bring users engaging and accessible stories. These are published on the website’s theme pages (e.g. Health and Social Care, People and Places) and act as a gateway into the more detailed analysis.  We are a specialist team made up of ex-journalists and writers, with backgrounds in print and online publishing and experience in writing and editing for a number of different audiences. Working in collaboration with statisticians on all subject areas, we seek to extract the data that we deem are the most interesting and valuable to non-expert users, who make up a large number of visitors to the ONS site.  We aim to grab and hold the attention of even the most spreadsheet-phobic visitors, if only for a few minutes!

Needless to say, deciding what is deserving of a story is not always an easy task in an organisation that publishes around 750 statistical products a year. With so many statistics there are always going to be occasional disputes over what constitutes engaging data and what our users (the non-experts) enjoy reading. The statisticians here have such a detailed knowledge and love of their subject area, which is a positive thing, of course. But at times it can be difficult for them – and us – to evaluate how ‘interesting’ particular data are to a wider audience. To better understand what works and what doesn’t, we are utilising an ever-evolving set of success measures and evaluation methods, using our past performance to inform our next developments. We look closely at user feedback, web analytics, social media and also monitor press coverage.

In my next post I’ll look at why some people here are uncomfortable with the word ‘story’. In the meantime, if you would like to know more about the work of the Editorial Team, please email us at

Martin Nicholls, Head of Editorial