How to use the ERIC database: the complete tutorial

What is the ERIC database?

ERIC stands for the Education Resources Information Center and is a database that provides more than 1.5 million texts related to all aspects of education. It can be freely accessed via https://eric.ed.gov/

The ERIC research database is sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences within the United States Department of Education. it is the largest database for education literature and contains resources dating from 1966. There are a variety of resources available within ERIC, including:

  • Journal articles
  • Conference proceedings
  • Executive summaries of meetings
  • Government publications
  • Dissertations and theses
  • Books and book chapters
  • Audiovisual resources

Currently, ERIC contains over 250 journals, which are included in the database based on specific criteria. Because it is primarily a resource for education-related texts, an entire journal is only included if more than 80% of its articles focus on education. When the percentage is lower than 80 percent, then articles are selected on a case-by-case basis. ERIC content is updated monthly, so you should find new resources frequently.

Search by keyword and subject

Search interface of ERIC database
ERIC search interface

To begin a basic search in ERIC, choose whether to search via the collection or the thesaurus. You will have to search differently based on which method you choose.

If you choose to search via the collection, you will need to enter keywords, for example: higher education, mobile learning or augmented reality. ERIC will then search all articles that have these keywords indexed in the bibliographic record.

ERIC also includes a thesaurus search which lets you obtain results from predefined descriptors. This will be covered in more detail below.

The ERIC Youtube channel also has some great videos to get you started.

To begin a basic search in ERIC, choose the keywords you wish to search, for example:

"higher education" OR "postsecondary school"

This search will return results that have either higher education or postsecondary school somewhere in the bibliographic entry.

ERIC database: search results
ERIC search results for "higher education" or "postsecondary school"

There are a few things to point out with this initial search. The first is the number of results: 669,312. This is far too many to search through, so you should begin filtering your search results.

There are two filters directly below the keyword search. The first is peer reviewed only, which will limit the search to texts which have undergone the peer review vetting process. The second is to select resources that have their full text available on ERIC. Applying both of these limiters reduces the number of results to 20,993.

However, you can further refine your search results by adding the filters presented to the left of your search results, these cover:

FilterField nameDescription
Publication datepubyearThe year the text was published.
DescriptordescriptorThese are subject terms which show more relevant search results than when searching with keywords.
SourcesourceName of the journal or publisher.
AuthorauthorThe author of the text, or contributors to conference proceedings.
Education leveleducationlevelERIC allows for limiting search by education level such as K-12 or higher education to more granular divisions.
AudienceaudienceThe author may not always choose to tag the audience, but it is an option which allows them to select the audience who would be most interested in that particular resource.
LocationlocationStates or countries.
Related policylawThis field generates resources that talk about a particular policy. In the case of cyber charter schools, one of the policy tags is No Child Left Behind
Related assessment or surveyassessmentFurther texts relating to the topic.

The thesaurus search is a search for subject descriptors - an organized grouping of research in the education area. When entering a search in the thesaurus, you will be presented with a list of descriptors which match your search term. For example, the image below shows the suggested descriptors for a search for “migration”. If you are unsure which terms to use in your search, you can also browse the full list of descriptors by clicking the “Browse Thesaurus” link to the right of the search box.

ERIC database: thesaurus search
ERIC thesaurus search

Clicking on any of these links will bring you to a descriptor page. You can use the descriptor by clicking the “Search collection using this descriptor” link, as shown in the screenshot below. The page also includes many related descriptors to help narrow or widen your search.

ERIC database: descriptor page
ERIC thesaurus descriptor page

Once a descriptor has been chosen, the presented results can be further narrowed with additional filters, just as a keyword search, however, if you apply the full text available on ERIC or the peer reviewed only filter, then the search will revert to a keyword search.

ERIC advanced search features

Sometimes it is necessary to run an advanced search, this means you select different fields before you begin the search.

The most straightforward advanced search feature is to use Boolean operators and quotes. Boolean operators include the words AND, OR, and NOT.

Using AND combines terms, using OR allows for either term to appear, and using NOT searches one term but not another.

A common reason to use NOT is when searching for Greek life in higher education. Several of the search results will be related to drinking or enforced restrictions on social parties. However, Greek life also engages in philanthropy and service learning. By entering “Greek life” NOT “drinking”, the results will eliminate any articles which refer to drinking.

You can also use field names to narrow your search. For example, papers on migration, by the author Roberts can be found with the search term “migration, author:roberts”. The available field names are presented in the filters table, above. In addition, you can also use the “title” and “abstract” field names.

One of the unique advanced search features to ERIC is the use of the ERIC accession number. This is only available for ERIC documents. The results are generally given with the most recent publications first. However, this is only possible if you have the ERIC accession number to begin with.

Retrieving the article full text

Once you have filtered down your search results, you’ll want to access the full text. Click the "Direct link" option in the gray box to the right of the search result to get to the publisher's page where you can access the full text of the article. It is important to note that if access is not provided by your institution or workplace, then most of these direct link resources will be inaccessible. However, if they are published under an accepted open access model you may still be able to access them.

ERIC database: diretc link to publisher fulltext
Direct link to the publisher's page

Summary

ERIC is a very specialized database for researchers in education and related areas. As such the results are often of high quality. It's main search functions much like any other academic database or academic search engine, but it also includes a thesaurus search which provides comprehensive results for research in selected sub-areas and topics within education research.

Alternative ERIC access routes

ERIC can also be accessed via several research database providers. These offer additional access to full text articles, an institutional subscription is needed though.