ERIC Identifier: ED434465
Publication Date: 1999-02-00
Author: McLane, Kathleen - Sorensen, Barbara
Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education Reston VA.
How To Use ERIC To Search Your Special Education Topic: Update
1999. ERIC Digest E573.
Have you heard of the ERIC database but never used it? Have you tried to
search the ERIC database on the Internet and been confused by what you found?
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.
WHAT IS ERIC?
The Educational Resources Information Center
(ERIC) is a federally funded information network designed to provide users with
ready access to education literature. Papers, curriculum and teaching guides,
conference proceedings, literature reviews, along with articles from nearly 800
education-related journals, are indexed and abstracted for the ERIC database.
Although the ERIC system consists of 16 clearinghouses and several support
components at various locations around the United States, there is only one ERIC
database. Whether you access ERIC on the Internet (World Wide Web) or through a
public library, college library, or other information center, you are searching
the same database of educational information.
ERIC AND STUDENTS WITH EXCEPTIONALITIES
than 74,000 documents and journal articles in ERIC relate to the education of
individuals who have disabilities and/or who are gifted. Virtually all of these
were added by the ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education.
WHAT WILL YOU GET FROM AN ERIC SEARCH?
The result of the
search will be an annotated bibliography of the 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); and EDRS provides the full text of many
documents in the ERIC database. Journal articles can be found in many libraries,
and reprints can be ordered from article reprint services.
FIND THE BEST WAY FOR YOU TO ACCESS ERIC
The ERIC database
is available at a number of World Wide Web sites, at university libraries, and
at many public and professional libraries. If you have a personal computer and
access to the Internet, you can search the ERIC database through a variety of
computer networks and services like the Internet, OCLC's First Search, DIALOG,
Dataware Technologies, and other online services. Before you decide where to
search ERIC, ask these questions:
1. How much will it cost?
may have free or inexpensive access to ERIC, for example, through your school or
college library or through your own Internet account. If not, you may have to
pay for connect time on some computer systems or order a search through a search
2. How much of the ERIC database is available?
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?
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?
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
For help in locating the ERIC resource collection nearest you, call ACCESS
ERIC at 1-800-LET-ERIC (800-538-3742).
USE THE THESAURUS OF ERIC DESCRIPTORS
Every one of the
nearly 1 million 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 or inclusive schools. If you want
resources about developing children's social skills, the best descriptor is
Many web sites and search devices have the Thesaurus online so that you can
consult it as you are searching. If you are using ERIC at a library, ask for a
copy of the Thesaurus of ERIC Descriptors 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.)
KNOW YOUR ANDS AND ORS
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 words, including 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:
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) to create a search based
on Boolean logic.
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. Remember, ORs expand or add more to your search, ANDs limit and
help focus your search.
HOW TO USE THE ERIC SEARCH PLANNING SHEET
The example above
shows how a special education question can be converted to a strategy for
searching the ERIC database. Use a blank worksheet to plan your search as
follows: (1) write your topic in your own words, (2) divide the topic into two
or three basic concepts, (3) use the Thesaurus of ERIC Descriptors to locate the
descriptors (subject terms) that best represent the concepts in your topic, (4)
combine the descriptors using ANDs and ORs, keeping in mind that ANDs limit and
focus your search and ORs expand your search.