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ERIC Database: How to use it

A guide to searching the ERIC (Educational Resources Information Center) database

A Thesaurus of Descriptors

The ERIC Thesaurus is a controlled vocabulary consisting of many Descriptors.  A Descriptor is basically the same thing as a Subject Heading: it describes the subject content of a record..

ERIC assigns descriptors to each ERIC record.

Descriptors v. keyword searching


  • Subject headings; they describe the subject content of an ERIC journal article or document.
  • Assigned to each record in the ERIC database
  • Identified by using the ERIC Thesaurus

What is a Descriptor search?

  •  It only searches the Descriptors field (DE=) of an ERIC record
  •  It is the most focused and precise way of searching for a particular subject.


  • Any terms you search for anywhere in the record

What is a Keyword search?

  • It looks for your term in the Title, Abstract, Descriptors, and Indentifiers fields.
  • If the keyword appears just once in any of those fields, the search will retrieve it.  It may be used in a different context than the one you're looking for, but it will still show up in your results list.

A keyword search will often produce results that are not relevant to your topic! 

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