The majority of datasets in our collection are available in three standard formats: STATA, SPSS and TAB. Below we explain which version may be suitable for you depending on your experience in using data and the software you have available to you.


A popular format choice with researchers who are familiar with analysing microdata, Stata format datasets can be opened using Stata software, which is licensed, or in other analysis programs, such as R and SAS.


SPSS is another popular choice for researchers, especially those who are relatively new to using statistical analysis software, such as undergraduates. This format is primarily used by researchers who have access to the SPSS program on their computers, which is a licensed product. However, SPSS files (.sav) files can easily be read into R and SAS. Some of our older datasets are available in an older, portable SPSS format (.por) – these can still be opened in SPSS, but they won’t open straightaway. Instead, you would need to open up SPSS and import the downloaded .por format dataset into the program.


TAB datasets are tab-delimited files and can be opened in Excel. This format is popular with researchers who are less familiar with analysing microdata and either do not have access to statistical software packages, or don’t know how to use them. Tab-delimited files will not open straightaway with Excel – instead, you would need to open the Excel program, and choose to open a file within it. Excel will default to searching for Excel file types, but if you change the selector type to ‘all files’ and then navigate to the area where you downloaded your tab-delimited file to, you will be able to pick that file and import it using the Excel wizard, ensuring that you choose the relevant ‘delimited’ option when it appears on screen.

Can you tell me which format I should use?

Unfortunately, advising on format and providing software support is not within our remit, but we will provide guidance where we can. If you are a student and are looking for advice and support on the software and formats you’ll be using, we recommend speaking to your lecturers or supervisor.

I’ve found a dataset in the catalogue that doesn’t have any download options – what should I do?

Please contact our Helpdesk using our online help form if you have found a dataset of this kind. These datasets are often some of the oldest ones in our collection and are not readily available in readable formats, but we will try to re-process these datasets where sufficient documentation is available for us to be able to do this. In some cases, it is sadly not possible for us to re-process datasets and in these instances, we will de-catalogue the dataset. Re- processing can take some time and we will always aim to give you an indication of how long it will take, if we think re-processing is feasible.