Finding the Right Descriptors for Your Search

ERIC is a digital library of education research,
funded by the Institute of Education Sciences in the US Department of Education. ERIC has 1.7 million records of journal articles,
reports, and books in the field of education. Descriptors from the ERIC Thesaurus can help
you find relevant materials in this broad collection, regardless of the
terminology used by the author. This video will explain how to find descriptors
that can help you focus your ERIC search. What is a descriptor? In ERIC, it is a word
or phrase that represents a subject in education. Every record in ERIC is tagged with Thesaurus
descriptors that describe the main subjects of the article, report, or book. Descriptors are
search aids that help users find research on a topic by retrieving materials
that are tagged with that descriptor. There are two main methods for finding descriptors
for your search. The first method is to look in the Thesaurus, which includes more than
4,500 descriptors. The second method involves reviewing descriptors
that appear in your search results to identify those that match your topic. 
First let’s take a look at how to find descriptors in the Thesaurus. Let’s say you are interested in finding
research about requirements for graduation. If you search the Thesaurus for “graduation,”
you will see a descriptor in your search results for “Graduation Requirements.” Click this
term and you will see its definition, as well as its broader, narrower and related terms.
You can review this entry to see if this, or a related term, will be a useful for your search. Since authors and searchers may use different
terminology when discussing the same topic, check the box to include synonyms when searching
the Thesaurus. Synonyms are not used to tag records, but they lead to the descriptor used
in ERIC to describe the topic. For example, if you were thinking of requirements
for a diploma instead of “graduation requirements,” you could still get to the descriptor ERIC
uses for this concept. If you search the Thesaurus for “diploma,” you see “Diploma Requirements”
in the results. Clicking that term shows that you should use the descriptor “Graduation
Requirements” for your search to find all relevant documents on this topic. In addition to searching, you can also Browse
the Thesaurus. Browsing is useful if you’re interested in seeing lists of Thesaurus terms,
categorized either alphabeally or by category. Another approach for finding descriptors is
to review the terms that appear in the search limiters and on ERIC records.
Let’s go back to the topic of requirements for graduation. We’ll start with a search
of the collection using the word “graduation.” On the left side of the screen are the descriptor
search limiters, which include the most frequently assigned descriptors in the records retrieved.
You see the descriptor “Graduation Requirements,” among others. Selecting this descriptor will
narrow your results to only those documents that are about graduation requirements. You can also review the descriptors that have
been added to individual records. For example, clicking on “Graduation Requirements”
in this record will show the Thesaurus entry. You can then determine if this
is a good descriptor to use in your search. As you can see, using descriptors helps you
find focused materials in ERIC. For more resources related to this topic, check out the following
infographic on How ERIC Develops Thesaurus Terms and the recorded webinar about the Thesaurus.

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