ERIC Identifier: ED363052
Publication Date: 1993-10-00
Author: Smarte, Lynn
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education Reston VA.

ERIC Basics: How To Use ERIC To Search Your Special Education Topic. ERIC Digest E523.

Have you heard of ERIC but never used it? Have you used ERIC but wondered if you found everything on your topic? Here are some tips for new and experienced ERIC users that will help you get the most out of the world's largest education database.


The Educational Resources Information Center (ERIC) is a federally-funded, nationwide information network designed to provide users with ready access to education literature. Papers, curriculum and teaching guides, conference proceedings, literature reviews, and curricular materials, along with articles from nearly 800 education-related journals, are indexed and abstracted for entry into the ERIC database.

Although the ERIC system consists of many clearinghouses and other network components at various locations around the United States, it is important to remember that there is only one ERIC database. Whether you access ERIC through a public library, college library, or other information center, you are searching the same database of educational information.


Currently, over 60,000 documents and journal articles in ERIC relate to the education of exceptional children. Most of these are processed by the ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education.


The result of the search will be an annotated bibliography of journal and document literature on your topic. After you have received and screened your search, you can readily obtain the full text of most of the materials. Microfiche or paper copies of materials are available from many ERIC service providers or from the ERIC Document Reproduction Service (EDRS). Journal articles can be found in many libraries or reprints can be ordered from article reprint services.


You can now use ERIC at university libraries, many public and professional libraries, and perhaps your closest personal computer. Computer networks and services like the Internet, SpecialNet, OCLC's First Search, and GTE Education Services are providing users with direct access to ERIC. Before you decide where to search ERIC, ask these questions:

1. How much will it cost?

You may have free or inexpensive access to ERIC. If not, you may have to pay for connect time on some computer systems or order a search through a search service.

2. How much of the ERIC database is available?

Some services provide access to only the most recent five or ten years of ERIC, which may be all you need. Decide whether you want to limit your search by date; remember that the database was started in 1966.

3. How long will it take?

Turnaround time can vary greatly, from a few minutes if you have direct access to ERIC on a personal computer, to several days or longer if you have to order a search that someone else will run for you.

4. How much flexibility does the search system offer?

Many different software systems are used to search ERIC. Some menu-driven search systems make it easy for a first-time user, but limit your opportunities to make changes to your search question. If you try searching ERIC and feel you cannot locate exactly what you are looking for, ask your librarian for help or call an ERIC clearinghouse.

For help in locating access to ERIC, call ACCESS ERIC at 1-800-LET-ERIC (1-800-538-3742).


Every one of the over 800,000 articles and documents in the ERIC database has been given subject indexing terms called descriptors. Before you run an ERIC search, it is important to take a few minutes to find the ERIC descriptors that best capture your topic.

For example, articles and documents about regular class placement are indexed under the descriptor "mainstreaming." If you want resources about developing children's social skills, the best descriptor is "interpersonal competence."

If you are using ERIC at a library, ask for a copy of "The Thesaurus of ERIC Descriptors." If you cannot locate a "Thesaurus," call an ERIC clearinghouse for help with your strategy. (Note: If you are searching a relatively new concept for which there is no descriptor, "free text" searching is available on most systems. Free text searching means you can look for the word or concept anywhere in the abstract.)


Although the software used to search ERIC will depend on which system you use, all searching is based on Boolean logic. The computer creates sets of information based on the way you tell it to combine subject terms (descriptors).

For example, if you wanted ideas on how computers can be used to improve the writing skills of students with learning disabilities, you could use the Thesaurus to find these subject descriptors:

learning disabilities

computer assisted instruction

writing instruction

To search ERIC for records that are indexed under all three of your concepts, you would combine these descriptors with ANDs:

learning disabilities AND computer assisted instruction AND writing instruction

If you wanted to expand your search to find additional relevant materials on this topic, you could add descriptors to your writing and computer sets using the OR operator:

(computer assisted instruction OR computer uses in education) AND (writing instruction OR writing skills)

The next step might be to combine your "writing" sets and "computer" sets (using AND) with the descriptor learning disabilities. The result might look like this:

learning disabilities AND (computer assisted instruction OR computer uses in education) AND (writing instruction OR writing skills).


ORs-Expand or add more to your search.

ANDs-Limit and help focus your search.


All of the ERIC clearinghouses have information specialists who can help you plan the best strategy for searching your topic. When you call or write to a clearinghouse, ask about special clearinghouse publications on your topic. Clearinghouses produce free and inexpensive publications, such as Digests and brief bibliographies, as well as more extensive products.

The ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education, located at The Council for Exceptional Children, has the primary responsibility for collecting and disseminating information on special education. For a list of current products from this clearinghouse, or for help with your search strategy, call 703/264-9474.

The following is a list of the 16 ERIC Clearinghouses. For a complete list of addresses and telephone numbers, call ACCESS ERIC at 1/800-LET-ERIC (1/800-538-3742).

ERIC Clearinghouse on

Adult, Career, and Vocational Education

Assessment and Evaluation

Community Colleges

Counseling and Student Services

Disabilities and Gifted Education

Educational Management

Elementary and Early Childhood Education

Higher Education

Information & Technology

Languages and Linguistics

Reading, English, and Communication

Rural Education and Small Schools

Science, Mathematics, and Environmental Education

Social Studies/Social Science Education

Teaching and Teacher Education

Urban Education

For more information on using ERIC to locate information on disabilities and gifted education, you can order a copy of:


by Lynn Smarte and Kathleen McLane

Publication Number R637, 1992


This 70-page, user-friendly guide for students, researchers, librarians, and other professional searchers includes basic information on how and where to access ERIC, a step-by-step guide to planning search strategies, three sample searches and tips on other ERIC searchable features such as publication types and identifiers. Appendices include a list of all ERIC descriptors for disabilities and giftedness, and lists of other databases and organizations concerned with special education.

Order from:

Publications Sales

The Council for Exceptional Children

1920 Association Drive

Reston, Virginia 22091-1589


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