A controlled vocabulary is a list of terms officially used in a specific discipline or setting. It can make searching easier since the same term will be used throughout the database to describe the same concept. Professional Development, in the example below, is a common phrase but could be interpreted in different ways by different disciplines of study. By using a database's Subject Headings or Thesaurus, you can identify which term is the "official" term that will be used across the resource and you will be able to use it to find all of the relevant items in the database. In the ERIC Thesaurus these official terms are called descriptors.
This page will familiarize you with ERIC, the Education Resources Information Center sponsored by the Institute of Education Science and the United States Department of Education. It is a very useful and free tool to find authoritative and relevant sources for research papers and projects you are assigned in your education courses.
ERIC is an index of educational resources, sometimes these resources include the full text of items and other times you will need to access the actual articles or other materials from a different source. Think of it like Amazon. Some items you search for are available digitally and you can purchase and access them instantly while others, like a new pair of shoes have to be sent to you. As an MSU student, you can access these resources through the library
ERIC is an open resource which means that it is available on the open web and anyone can use it to search for educational resources. It is used by academics, researchers, practicing teachers, policy makers, and the general public. Anyone interested in learning more about education. After you leave MSU you will still be able to access and use it but you will not have access to a lot of the academic journals indexed within ERIC unless you you have access through another library.
Many of the databases available at the library are through EBSCOhost. Using ERIC through EBSCO will make accessing any of the materials available through library subscriptions much easier.
The Education Databases Search contains databases that use different controlled vocabularies. You can search for a term and it can help you determine the descriptor ERIC uses to describe a specific topic.
Sometimes it is difficult to determine the descriptor ERIC uses to describe a topic. One way to figure it out is to start with a keyword search.
A keyword search is most of the searches you perform. You type in words and the program searches for all of those words in its collection of documents. The screen shot to the right is a screen shot of one of the results of a search for [classroom management]. Classroom management is a well-known concept but ERIC does not recognize it as descriptor. However, the term is used frequently in education literature and a keyword search brings up many results. But is it the only way the subject is described? Will you miss out on potential sources if you only search that term? By only performing a keyword search you may be missing out on sources that could provide more diverse perspectives.
To ensure you are getting a broader perspective, you can look at the Descriptors (or subject headings in other databases) and use those to perform another search.
Looking at the descriptors for this item, it seems that the descriptor Classroom Techniques is the most likely ERIC descriptor but if you are not sure, you can go to the ERIC Thesaurus on the official ERIC database to learn more.
When a descriptor is not as clear as you think it should be, you can find out more by looking at the descriptor's thesaurus entry. If a term is not as clear as it could be, they include scope notes to help you understand how the term is being used. The scope notes for Classroom Techniques state: Techniques used in the classroom by those in authority (e.g. teachers, aides, administration) -- may either be directly educational or facilitate educational processes. The entry also states you should use this term instead of classroom management and gives both broader and narrower terms that can help you either expand or narrow your research topic.