How ERIC Can Help You Write a Research Paper

ERIC is a free database of over 1.6 million
education-related resources, sponsored by the US Department of Education’s Institute
of Education Sciences. The tools available on the
ERIC website at can help you find the articles needed to write research
papers for the field of education. This video provides step-by-step instructions on one
way you can go about searching for resources in ERIC. We are specifically going to discuss
narrowing your topic, targeting specific resources using filters and descriptors, and selecting
relevant resources for your research paper. Are you curious about how you would use
ERIC when writing a research paper? Let’s walk through an example. Let’s say you are
writing a paper on how young children learn math, so you go to the ERIC database and search
“math.” When you run a broad search on a key topic in education, you’re likely
to get many more results than you can use. In this example, you find thousands of resources.
By adding more search terms you will get fewer, more relevant results. If you narrow the search
to “early math,” your number of results is reduced significantly. Now let’s go back
to the search box and add another term to make our search more specific. Narrowing further
to “teaching early math” brings a back an even smaller number of targeted materials. There are other ways to narrow your search
in ERIC. For example, you can filter by descriptors from the ERIC Thesaurus. Descriptors are part
of the Thesaurus’s controlled vocabulary and are assigned by ERIC experts when new
materials are added to the collection. Descriptors indicate the primary subjects of each ERIC
record to help users find relevant resources. Using the descriptor “teaching methods” will
ensure that all material on teaching methods will appear in your search results, even if
that phrase did not appear in the title or abstract of the ERIC record. Your assignment asks you to explore current
practices, so you only want to see research from the last 10 years. Through ERIC, you
can narrow your list by publication date. At this point, you can begin to identify and
download resources that give you an initial background on your topic. Because ERIC lists
the resources in order of relevance, you will likely find several good options within the
first few pages of the list. Some materials are available in full text while others may
be accessible through a Direct Link to the publisher website in the ERIC record. Another way to find related articles is to limit your search by author. ERIC shows you which authors
have the most articles in your search results. A higher number of published articles does
not necessarily guarantee that a particular author is an expert, but consulting these
numbers can often be a useful way to begin zeroing in on the leaders in the field. After you read a few resources for background
information on your research topic, you can identify relevant materials that will help
you craft a thesis statement and draft sections of your paper. One resource you found was the What Works
Clearinghouse practice guide “Teaching Math to Young Children.” In the guide, you found
this statement and believe it could be a potential topic for your research paper. Based on your potential topic, you identify
some relevant terms in your background articles to narrow your search, such as “math classroom,”
“math environment,” and “early math environment.” The What Works Clearinghouse Guide includes
a number of references that may be helpful to your research. You can use the resources
referenced in the materials you find to identify additional articles, and search ERIC to find
them. Simply copy and paste the title of the document in quotes into the ERIC search. Another search technique is to use descriptors
from the ERIC Thesaurus in your search. Descriptors act as the name suggests: they describe the key subjects of each article. You can search for or browse descriptors by clicking on the
Thesaurus tab. Descriptors can also be found in your search results on the left side of
the page and underneath the abstract in the full record. For example, this record is extremely relevant to your topic. It had the descriptors “classroom
environment” and “mathematics instruction” that also apply to your topic. By clicking
on those links, you can find other relevant articles to use for your paper. If you click on a descriptor, it will take
you to its Thesaurus page. The Thesaurus page provides a “scope note” that explains
the term, as well as an opportunity to search the collection using that term. This search may help you locate
additional useful resources. Now that you’ve identified potential articles,
it’s time to evaluate the details. This will help you assess the quality and appropriateness of the resources you’ve found for your research paper. You may need to focus on peer-reviewed resources,
which many college professors require. “Peer reviewed” means that a written work has
been scrutinized and evaluated by experts in the relevant field of study. You can limit
your search to only include peer-reviewed records. ERIC marks all peer-reviewed journal
articles, materials produced by the Institute of Education Sciences, and recently indexed
peer-reviewed papers and reports as peer reviewed to allow targeted searching. This means that not all items flagged as peer reviewed are journal articles. When deciding whether or not to use or include
a resource, you can also consider its reference count, or the number of resources cited by
the authors. Stronger resources tend to have higher reference counts that indicate that
the authors have thoroughly researched their topic. It’s also important to review your resources
for potential bias. It may also be important to consider who is sponsoring the material.
Do they have a bias that might influence their work? This may not be a source of concern,
and does not automatically mean a resource should not be used. But it should be considered,
depending on the nature of your assignment. You have now selected strong resources using
the ERIC search tools. You have downloaded your articles and have begun to read them,
identifying key information. Based on the information you have read, you
develop and refine your thesis into the following statement: “Creating a math-rich environment
in the classroom can help engage children in learning math.” With that thesis as your
guide, you can now draw key information from your articles and draft your research paper. As you move through the paper-writing process,
you are likely to find gaps in your information. You can go back to ERIC to fill those gaps.
However, you will search for only those resources that fill in the information your paper still
needs. For example, you may realize that you need more examples of how teachers can help
children recognize math concepts in their everyday classroom environment. You now search
with very specific search terms like “early math games” or “early math toys.” You
find a new list of articles that offer more specific information to strengthen your paper. You can use the same tools you used in your
earlier searches to quickly find what you need. Using these options, you should be able
to locate the articles and information for your research paper. For more information on how to use ERIC to
develop your research paper, check out the links below or contact the ERIC Help Desk

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