In Britain, the word "Asian" usually refers specifically to people of South Asian ancestry (Pakistanis, Indians, Bangladeshis and Sri Lankans). This usage contrasts to that in the United States, where it is used to refer to people of East Asian origin. The British Sociological Association's guidelines on equality and diversity suggest that "South Asian" is more precise than "Asian", and that the latter should not be used where there is a risk of it conflating South Asians with people from elsewhere in Asia.
The United Kingdom Census 1991 was the first to include a question on ethnicity (apart from in Northern Ireland, where the question was not asked until 2001). The question had tick-boxes for "Indian", "Pakistani" and "Bangladeshi". There was also a tick box, as well as a general "Any other ethnic group (please describe)" option for those not wishing to identify with any of the pre-set tick boxes. For the 2001 Census, in England and Wales, "Indian", "Pakistani" and "Bangladeshi" and "Any other Asian background (please write in)" options were grouped under an "Asian or Asian British" heading, with appearing under a separate heading. In Scotland, all of these tick-boxes were grouped together under an "Asian, Asian Scottish or Asian British " heading, and in Northern Ireland no broad headings were used, just tick-boxes for each of the Asian groups. The 2011 Census questionnaire was more consistent with regard to the grouping of Asian ethnicities, such that Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Chinese and any other Asian background options appeared under a broad "Asian/Asian British" ("Asian, Asian Scottish or Asian British" in Scotland) heading in all parts of the UK.