ERIC : Advanced Searching Using Subjects in the ERIC Thesaurus

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Before viewing this tutorial you should first view the ERIC tutorial OR the ERIC-Learning Badge tutorial that discuss the basics of searching ERIC using keywords rather than subjects.

Why this Tutorial?

Upon completion of this tutorial, you will be able to:

  • Locate & access the ERIC Thesaurus
  • Select & use ERIC subject terms
  • Recognize differences between keyword & subject searches
  • Apply limits to focus your search results by:
  • peer-reviewed articles
  • scholarly, researched-based or empirical articles
  • publication date
  • Find & get full-text


Explaining the Thesaurus

You read the description of the Thesaurus at the beginning of this tutorial but what does it mean or what does it look like?

Each source in ERIC is described using ERIC defined subjects. They look like keywords, but subjects are "official" terms that experts believe are the most important & frequently used words in the field of education. Because of this they are used to describe the information in a source indexed in ERIC.



The Thesaurus is an important tool used to identify subjects in ERIC. Using those terms help focus & ensure what is found is actually about your topic. Allow the Thesaurus to search for subjects and find sources relevant to your topic.    

Why Use the Thesaurus

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To illustrate the differences between keyword & subject searching, read the descriptions of each and then compare the results of each of the searches using the same topic.

Keyword searching is so much easier because you type the words you want searched into the search boxes. Like Google it is quick & easy but sometimes your results look like Google too. 

Many sources are found because the system looks for the keyword anywhere & everywhere. If the keyword is found, a record of the source is retrieved.

Look at the results on a single keyword search of 'mathematics'.

Keyword search: mathematics - 93,477 items


Why Use the Thesaurus

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We saw what the results were for a keyword search, now let's look at subject searching. 

Subject searching using the Thesaurus finds & retrieves fewer items because only the subject field of the source record is searched. When you match and search your keyword to an ERIC subject you have decreased the search time but increased your ability to find items focusing on your topic. 

This time the search is completed using the ERIC subject 'mathematics' found in the Thesaurus. Compare the results of the subject search with those of the keyword search.

Subject search: mathematics - 10,235 items


The number of items identified and retrieved is considerably fewer but that is not the only difference.

Finding the Thesaurus

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ASU Library homepage [] in the right window offers 3 easy options...

1- Under "Frequently Used Resources" click on ERIC OR

2- Click on "Research Databases" in the FIND menu; from the alphabetical list click on 'E' and scroll down until you see ERIC. Click CONNECT. OR

3- Select "Research Databases" from Quick Links menu & follow instructions in #2

If you are off campus you need to enter your ASURITE ID and password for each of these options.




To get started, click on the ERIC link under "Frequently Used Resources" now so it is open and ready to search.


Finding the Thesaurus

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Before searching the Thesaurus, you must have a research question in mind. We'll try this one:

How can technology prepare children for starting school?

The next step in the process is to identify the main ideas or concepts in the question. These look relevant:

  • technology
  • children
  • starting school

Searching the ERIC Thesaurus

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Now we are ready to search. Click on the Thesaurus link above the search boxes. A pop-up window show open. This window can be moved around the screen to allow you to see the instructions on the left side of the screen. 

In the new window type 'technology' in the search box & click on FIND.
Look at the subjects found. 'Educational Technology' looks interesting but 'Impact of Technology' looks really good.


Searching the ERIC Thesaurus

2 of 5Click on Impact of Technology to open a new window.

Turns out 'impact of technology' is not a subject but 'influence of technology' is the subject used for it and 'computer influences'.  

Before looking at additional subjects, check the box by 'influence of technology'.

Next, scroll through the list of possible subjects. Put a check in the box next to computer use, computer literacy, computer attitudes and technological literacy and click on the "Add to Search" button at the bottom of the screen. Once you have clicked on this button the pop-up will disappear until you click on the Thesaurus link again.

Searching the ERIC Thesaurus

3 of 5There are 2 ideas remaining. Children was 1 of the concepts identified but let's set that aside for now since children are the ones starting school. We can add it after searching the 'readiness' subject if the results are not what we want.

Starting school is the 3rd idea in this search but it isn't something to search.  Thinking about that concept, school readiness sounds like a possibility.

Searching the ERIC Thesaurus

4 of 5Click on the Thesaurus link again to open the window and this time enter 'readiness'.

With this Thesaurus search, 'readiness', 'learning readiness' and 'school readiness' are found. Click the check box to the left of each of the 3 subjects mentioned above.  

Each subject also has a box to the right listing related subjects that might be useful. To open a new window with those related subjects click on the "pages' icon to the right. You can close this new box by clicking on the 'X' in the right corner.

Click the check box for 'learning readiness' and check 'cognitive development'. Click on "Add to Search". The 4 subjects selected should look like this in the search box.

Searching the ERIC Thesaurus

5 of 5In addition to the technology subject we have added the readiness idea so your search should look like this.

All of the subjects we selected from the Thesaurus are entered with MAINSUBJECT.EXACT in front of the subject so it looks like this: MAINSUBJECT.EXACT("Influence of Technology"). This means these are 'subjects' that will be searched exactly as shown in the subject field of each record in ERIC.


Searching Subjects

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Now that we have our subjects entered, click on the SEARCH button to see the results.

We found over 130 items searching these 2 subjects. This number will change as more items are added to the ERIC database.


As a quick comparison the same words were previously searched as keywords rather than subjects. At almost 400 items, the number of items retrieved is much larger than the subject search because they were searched throughout the records in the ERIC database instead of only the subject field. 


Searching Subjects

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A quick scan of the first page of results looks like most of the results discusses older students rather than young students.

Given that, lets add subjects to the search to represent children.

Click on 'Modify the Search' so we can go back to the Thesaurus link.  Now enter 'preschool children' in the search box.

Preschool children is an ERIC subject. Click the check box to select it; also click on the page to the right and select 'toddlers' from the list. Now click on 'add to search' at the bottom of the page.

Viewing Search Results

1 of 3Normally this would be the time to add limiters such as: scholarly journals, peer-reviewed articles and publication date. With the small number in the results list it is more economical to review these. With a larger number of items, limits can be added by selecting the relevant ones under "Narrow Results".


Viewing Search Results

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Scrolling through the list, this article [New Technologies, New Multimodal Literacy Practices and Young Children's Metacognitive Development] looks like a possibility.

Look below the citation. Notice the links for: Cited By & References.  These citations & references help expand the number of sources identified.

Cited by lists authors who cited this article in their publication. This is a look forward in time since this article was published.

References are those sources cited by the author in this article. This provides a look back in time.

Viewing Search Results

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Click on the article title to open the full record. 

Three of the subjects we found through the Thesaurus are listed in the subject field: preschool children, cognitive development and influence of technology. 

Remember, subjects identified & searched via the Thesaurus are searched only in this field/section of the record. 

The abstract summarizes the information in the article. Looking closer at the record, the citation with author, article title, journal name, volume date & pages are near the top. 

Finding Full-Text & Using RefWorks

In the ERIC Tutorial, you learned how to find full-text and export citations to RefWorks but here is a quick review. Follow the same process for finding full-text and exporting citations when searching using subjects found in the Thesaurus. The path to the information is different [subject vs. keyword searching] and the number of results is also different but what you can do to find and/or export citations is the same.


Between the citation and abstract you should see the link to full text and the Get It@ASU button.


Click on 1 of these to access full-text. If full-text is not available, follow the links to request it.



Click on "More" to open the menu & select RefWorks to export your citations.



As demonstrated, taking advantage of the Thesaurus helps focus the search results ensuring what is found it more relevant to the subjects searched.

Now that you have completed this tutorial, you can:

  • Locate & access the ERIC Thesaurus
  • Select & use ERIC subject terms
  • Recognize differences between keyword & subject searches
  • Apply limits to focus your search results by:
    • peer-reviewed articles
  • scholarly, researched-based or empirical articles
  • publication date
  • Find & get full-text


Need Help?

If you need additional help with your research or in searching ERIC, contact one of the Librarians located on the campus nearest you or Ask a Librarian chat.

If you need help with this tutorial contact: Deirdre Kirmis.


ERIC Subject Searching Using the Thesaurus - Quiz

Congratulations, you’ve completed the ERIC - Subject Searching tutorial!

Click on TUTORIALS to return to the Tutorials page or QUIZ to complete a brief quiz.




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