This is a searchable, downloadable database for people wanting to identify available writing from writers contributing to the Mass Observation Project (MOP) 1981 onwards (please see the FAQs for a description of the MOP). It is a resource that provides potential users of the MOP archive with information about the biographical/demographic characteristics and writing behaviours of individual Mass Observation Project writers.
The database is designed to enable users to:
The data in this database can be downloaded to view, or manipulate, in Excel.
You can find out more about how this database was created and how to use it on the FAQs listed below. We strongly advise reading the FAQs, as these provide information on the limitations of some of the data provided.
For help and guidance on undertaking database searches, please consult the tutorial page, which provides simple instructions and step by step screenshots of typical searches.
Please note that you cannot access the responses to Mass Observation Project through this database. These can be accessed by physically visiting The Keep. (see FAQs)
Please contact us if you can't find the answer to your question in the FAQs or other help materials, or if you would like to discuss using the Mass Observation Project in more detail.
The database was developed as part of the ‘Defining the Mass Observation Project’ funded through the ESRC Secondary Data Analysis Initiative, and is a collaboration between the Mass Observation Archive, and the Universities of Southampton, Birmingham and Surrey.
Click on the question to view or hide the answer.
is the Mass Observation Project (MOP)?
Observation Project (MOP) is a unique national life-writing project that
captures the experiences, thoughts and opinions of "everyday" people
in 21st century Britain.
The MOP was launched in
1981 with the aim of reviving the early Mass
Observation organisation's (1937 - 1966) idea of a national writing panel. Since
it began, more than 3,500 people have
volunteered to write for the MOP. Many of these writers have been corresponding
over several years, making the MOP rich in qualitative, longitudinal material.
writers, who are often known as “Observers”, respond to “Directives”, sets of
questions that are sent to them by post or email three times a year. A typical Directive
consists of sets of questions on two or three broad themes, and can range from
requests for: descriptions of writers’ lives and personal experiences; descriptions
of writers, their identities, and how these fit within broader society; or
their views on political and social issues and events. Some examples of Directive
themes include: You Online (Summer 2015); The Big Society (Spring 2012); Bonfire Night (Autumn 2015); Fraud and Scans (Autumn 2015) and What makes you happy? (Winter 2013).
Observation Archive which administrates the MOP collaborates with non-commercial
organisations and academics from a variety of disciplines to produce these
Directives, as well as creating “in-house” questions to cover topics that
relate to current events or pertinent topics (for example The General Election 2015 (Spring
2015) or The High Street (Spring
writers/observers join the MOP they are issued with pseudonyms, consisting of a
number prefixed by an alphabetical letter, for example, A883. They use this code
every time they write for the MOP. This protects their identity and gives them
anonymity. This means they are able to write openly and candidly. As a
result, the MOP solicits in-depth accounts that contain rich material
about Observers’ opinions, views and experiences of everyday life.
most writers/observers answer the questions being asked within the Directives,
they are not required to do so, and they are not required to follow the
formatting of the questions being asked. Responses are produced in a variety of
different formats. These include: stories, memoirs, lists, letters, diagrams,
drawings, maps, diaries, photographs, press cuttings and confessions. Although
this potential lack of structure can surprise new users of the archive, it can
also provide unusual and rewarding insights
can be accessed by visiting the Mass Observation Archive at The Keep (see the
further information about the Mass Observation Project 1981+, please visit the Mass Observation Archives website.
information on the earlier Mass Observation organisation please visit Mass Observation 1937.
I access the writing by the Mass Observation writers?
You can explore lots of
information about Mass Observation Project writers and their writing through
this website. However, the actual writing/documents themselves can only be
accessed by physically visiting The Keep. You can view a
selection of material collected during the 1980s online. Read more about this
The Keep is a world-class archival
centre based near Brighton, in East Sussex. The Mass Observation Project (1981
onwards) housed at The Keep is part of the Mass Observation Archive, held by
the University of Sussex Special Collections at The Keep.
Details of how to visit The
Keep can be found here.
Ordering documents from The
Mass Observation Project at The Keep:
When you undertake a search
using the ‘Search Database’ page, the results are displayed as a
horizontal list. One of the headings in
this list is ‘Archive Ref’. Clicking on this will take you directly to the
relevant page in The Keep catalogue, which will enable you to order writing for
viewing in the Reading Room at The Keep.
However, please note, that before you can order anything you will
need to create an account with The Keep (registration and sign in are found
at the top right hand corner of The Keep website).
Click here to the catalogue for the Mass Observation
A small selection of Mass
Observation Project (MOP) Directives are available online. In 2012 the University of
Sussex received JISC funding for a project called Observing
the 1980s. This
initiative involved the selection and digitisation of materials from the 1980s.
This included documents from the MOP, recordings from the British Library’s
Oral History collections, and printed materials/ephemera from the University of
Additionally, responses to the MOP Summer 2012 Directive on the Diamond Jubilee bank holiday weekend can also be accessed online through the UK Web Archive at the British Library.
are the Mass Observation Project writers?
At the time of writing these
FAQs (mid-2016) 3,678 people have responded to a MO Directive at least once.
More than two thirds (70%) of them began to write for MO during or before 1995.
Some of the data on the
demographic characteristics of these 3,768 writers were collected using a
biographical questionnaire. Please note
that these questionnaires were filled out at only one point in time, either in the early 1990s or at the time of
joining the MOP, if they joined after 1990. Some analyses of this
information are specific to these time points and thus may not reflect
subsequent changes to writers’ demographic characteristics. Please see the
FAQ on ‘What Data is in the Database’, below.
Age and gender: Approximately two thirds
(68%) of the writers are women. Three quarters of the writers are born between the
1920s and 1960s and were on average 50 years old when they first wrote for the
MOP. However the ages of writers varies greatly, with writers from 16 to 94
years old contributing to the MOP.
Where writers live: The vast majority of the
writers reported that they lived in England (89%), most commonly in the South
East (19%) and London (15%). Only 5% of the writers were from Scotland, and a
similar proportion was from Wales. Very few (1%) were from Northern Ireland. Please
note, that this information was collected from biographical datasheets written
at one time point (either the 1990s or at the time of joining if the writer
joined after 1990), and thus may not reflect subsequent changes to region of
Marital status: Half of the writers were married
at the time that they filled out a biographical datasheet (in the early 1990s
or post 1990 if they joined the MO after this point). A quarter of the writers reported that they were single.
10% reported that they were cohabiting. (However, please note that some writers
who identify as single may have been cohabiting in same-sex relationships.)
Who writers live with: Of 30% of all writers who
provided information about their living arrangements (in the early 1990s or
when they joined if they joined after 1990), 40% said that they lived with
a partner, 21% said they lived with a partner and children, and 20% said that
they lived alone.
Employment status: Of the half of the writers
who reported their employment status (in the 1990s or when they joined, if
they joined after this date), half were employed but 27% retired, half of
all employed and self-employed writers worked in the public sector, the other
half worked in the private sector. Most of the writers who provided information
on their occupation came from professional, associate professional or
administrative occupations. See https://definingmassobservation.wordpress.com/ for more information
are the Mass Observation Project writers recruited?
Mass Observation Project (MOP)
writers are a self-selected panel. In the year that the MOP began, a number of
letters appeared in the national and local press appealing for writers. These
letters successfully attracted over 300 responses to the MOP’s first Directive
on The Royal Wedding. However, since the MOP was launched in 1981, there have
been no major campaigns to recruit writers.
Since 1981, there has been
substantial media coverage not only of the current MOP, but also the
original Mass Observation organisation (1937-1960s), and a number of popular
publications have used material from the Archive (Nella Last's War: The
Second World War Diaries of 'Housewife, 49 and Our Hidden Lives:
The Remarkable Diaries of Post-war Britain). This media coverage has attracted many new writers. The
Archive also has a website which contains information about writing for the
Mass Observation Project and maintains a lively Twitter account. Both of these
have been useful tools to draw in new writers.
Since 1981 the size of the
Mass Observation Panel has varied considerably. In 1988 there were nearly 1000
people writing and in 1993 the Directives were being mailed out to almost 700
people. At the time of writing (mid-2016) 450 people write for the MOP. Over
the years, we have found that a panel size of around 500 is what we can
comfortably maintain with our resources.
We receive around 200
applications to join the MOP each year. However in order to maintain a healthy
balance of people writing for the Archive, and because we can't accept all of
these applications, we now operate recruitment criteria. This was first
introduced in 2004. Visit the Mass Observation website to find out what our current criteria is.
data is in the database?
database draws on biographical data submitted by the Mass Observation at one
time point. For writers who joined the Mass Observation Project (MOP) in
the 1980s, this will be biographical data submitted in the early 1990s.
For writers joining the MO Project after 1990, this will be biographical
data submitted when they joined the MOP. It also draws on data on
Observers’ writing records.
database contains information on writers’ characteristics, some of which are
specific to these time points. This includes:
of birth/decade of birth
The region and indices of multiple
deprivation of the places where writers lived when they submitted their
Who writers lived with when they submitted
their biographical data
The jobs they were doing when they submitted
their biographical data
Which Directives writers have responded to
The type of themes that they are most likely to
How often they write
they joined the writing project
database enables users of the archive to select/sample writers and writing based
on these demographic data. For example, an archive user can choose to sample the
writing of particular contributors based on certain characteristics, such as decade
of birth, occupational class, marital status. In addition, users can identify
recurring themes in Directives by undertaking keyword searches.
database also enables users of the archive to compare writers with the broader UK
population, and the volunteering population of the UK (all writers are
volunteers). We are in the process of undertaking some quantitative and qualitative
analyses of the MOP writers, which can be accessed via our blogs, see Defining
Mass Observation. These
discuss the ways in which MOP writers are similar or different to the broader
UK population, enabling users of the archive to make informed decisions about
how and why they want to use the Archive, and which writers they might want to
does the data in the database come from?
database was created by de-identifying, anonymising, and amalgamating different
types of data that the Mass Observation Archive holds on its writers
(metadata), cleaning this up, and bringing all this information into one place
(see Defining Mass Observation Research Design).
i) Paper biographical datasheets filled out by
writers - either in the early 1990s if they joined the MOP in the 1980s, or
when they joined the MOP if this was after 1990. These provide information on
occupation, marital status, year of birth, where the writer lived, and who the
writer was living with, at the time of filling out the form. View biographical questionnaire
ii) An existing electronic database of Directives
and which writers have responded to individual Directives
iii) De-identified electronic postcode data which
has been used to identify which writers live in high, medium, or low
iv) An existing electronic database of writers’ gender
and dates of birth, and when they joined and left the MOP
What information does the
database contain about the writers socio-demographic characteristics?
database contains information on a range of writers’ socio-demographic
Birth cohort refers to the decade the writer was born. For example, ‘1920s’ means that the writer was born between 1920 and 1929.
Region represents the region
within which the writer resided at the time of joining the MOP. The regions are
classified using the Government Offices for the Regions (GOR) classification
scheme. This classification has been subject to change over time, please note
that the regions used reflect the GOR data for 2016. More information about
this classification can be found in the Office of National Statistics’ (ONS) ‘A Beginners Guide to UK Geography’.
Occupation The search option
Occupation provides information on writers’ occupations reported in 1990, or at
the time of joining the MO if this was later than 1990.
have not provided actual descriptions of the jobs being done by MOP writers. The
descriptions of jobs provided were too varied and too inconsistent to be useful
for the purposes of this database. Instead, we have cleaned and recoded the
data on occupation provided by the writers into ONS categories known as Standard Occupational Classifications
(SOC) using Cascot software.
These are common classifications of
occupational information for the UK where jobs are classified in terms of their
skill level and skill content. Skill
level is defined with respect to the duration of training and/or work
experience required in order to perform the activities related to a job in a
competent and efficient manner.
Jobs are classified into groups
according to the concept of ‘skill level’ and ‘skill specialisation’. We have
used the SOC categories for 1990 (SOC1990) and 2010 (SOC2010). These were used
to capture changes in occupations, and in their classification, and to provide
some comparability between occupations reported in 1980s and 1990s and
later. Providing both occupational
classifications gives researchers an opportunity to select respondents from a
certain occupational group based on one
of the classification schemes.
more detail on the Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) and how it
relates to measures of class, please read the ONS guidelines.
of Multiple Deprivation (IMD): Please use the IMD data with
caution. This draws on postcode data provided by writers. However we do not
have records of when these postcode data were provided and whether writers
still live at these addresses. The
IMDs provided have been calculated using the indices for 2010 (for addresses in
England), 2012 (for addresses in Scotland) and 2014 (for addresses in Wales and
IMD score indicates the level of multiple deprivation (7 measures of
deprivation: income; employment; health/disability, living environment;
education, skills and training; barriers in housing; crime) for the postcode
area provided. High means the writer
lives in an area of high multiple deprivation, low means the writer lives in an
area of low deprivation. Please note that not every person in a highly deprived
area will be deprived, or view themselves as deprived.
that the IMDs for different countries within the UK are from different years
the IMDs for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are not directly comparable.
more information on this refer to the ONS document ‘ UK indices of multiple deprivation- a way to make
comparisons across constituent countries easier’ .
information on measuring and interpreting the IMD in England is available in ‘ The English Indices of Deprivation 2010’
have the writers recorded their relationships?
The relationship status of the Mass Observers has
been recorded in the database by using the biographical forms completed by the
Mass Observers in the early 1990s, or when they join the MOP, if this was after
the 1990s. This form has the following tick boxes: single, married, separated,
divorced, co-habiting, widowed and in a civil partnership. View biographical questionnaire
Since 2004 gay writers have been able to identify
themselves as in a civil partnership, or co-habiting, and since 2014 as married
or co-habiting. However, prior to this, some writers living with same-sex
partners may have identified in different ways, some as ‘co-habiting’, and some
as single (particularly older writers who had lived through times when male
same-sex relationships were criminalised, and homophobia in the UK was rife).
Therefore the term/measurement ‘marital status’ has had an inconsistent meaning
over time, and we believe that some writers in same-sex relationships are
missing from this particular record.
the ethnicity of writers been recorded?
No information about writers’ ethnicity has been
recorded. Researchers looking for this information would need to visit the
Archive to read the responses to the Mass Observation Directives.
I find out what Directives were sent to the Mass Observation panel?
can find out which Directives were sent to the Mass Observation Project Panel
by using the Directive section of the database. All of the Directives are
listed in date order, but you can also search by title or a keyword using the
description or keyword search fields.
can also find a full list of the Directives and download a copy of the Directive
questions sent to the Observers from the Mass Observation website.
use the data longitudinally?
The database should enable
users of the archive to access data in a number of ways, some of which provide
snapshots of writers’ views at particular points in time (cross-sectional), and
others which provide access to the writing of individual contributors over time
What are the limitations of the database?
are some limitations to this database:
of the data provided are derived from biographical datasheets filled in by
writers, either in the early 1990s; or when writer joined the MOP, if this was
after 1990. This means that these data relate to one time point only, and thus
do not reflect any changes in writers’ characteristics after this time. (See
FAQ – ‘Where does the data in the database come from?’ for more details)
database itself has limitations. Its purpose is to enable users of the MOP to
have a better understanding of the MOP writers; to provide confidence in the
MOP as a source of data; and to help with selecting and sampling writers and
writing. It is not built for very complex searches – for example, it is not
possible to compare one cohort of writers with another. However it is possible
to download and save the database into an excel format onto the user’s own pc
or laptop. This will enable the user to manipulate data themselves.
are missing data. Not all writers filled out
all sections in the biographical datasheets. The database refers to missing
data as ‘not answered’,
4) Writers described their occupations in very different and
varied ways, which resulted in a huge and unwieldy list of different
occupations. We have not listed the specific occupations of individual writers
but instead we provide information on occupation using the Standard
Occupational Class (SOC) classifications provided by the Office of National
Statistics measure of class. (See FAQ –
‘Where does the data in the database come from?’ for more details)
5) The keyword search for directives provides key words from
the text of the directives only. It does not provide key words from writers’
responses to these directives.
export or save my searches?
can export your searches into excel and save them on your own computer or
device, but you cannot save your searches on the database in order to return to
them on another day.
If there are no results for your search
it may be that you have too many filter terms. All the filter terms can be
reset by pressing on the “Clear” button.