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Thesaurus and Identifiers

What is the ERIC Thesaurus?

The ERIC Thesaurus is a leading authority on the language used in the field of education. It is a controlled vocabulary with nearly 12,000 terms, including more than 4,500 descriptors and 7,000 synonyms. Descriptors from the Thesaurus are assigned to each of the 1.9 million records in ERIC to describe the main subjects of the content. Synonyms point searchers to the preferred term, or descriptor, in ERIC.

What are Thesaurus descriptors?

Descriptors in the ERIC Thesaurus are words or phrases that represent subjects in the field of education. Descriptors are used to index ERIC records and every record in ERIC includes descriptors. They can be used as limiters to help narrow your search. The following recorded webinar provides an overview of the Thesaurus

What is in an ERIC Thesaurus entry?

Thesaurus entries provide information about each ERIC descriptor and synonym as an aid to searchers, with guidance on how the terms are used in ERIC. This infographic depicts entries for a descriptor and a synonym with explanations of each element: PDF on ERIC Anatomy of a Thesaurus Entry.

How are Thesaurus descriptors assigned to ERIC records?

Indexers trained in the controlled vocabulary of the ERIC Thesaurus review the title and abstract of each record to determine the main concepts of the content. They will also review the full text of an article or non-journal publication if available. Using their expert knowledge of the Thesaurus, indexers will apply the appropriate descriptors that capture the concepts of the material, regardless of how individual authors may describe the same ideas, processes, or policies. Indexers apply terms at the most specific level of the content and understand the controlled vocabulary hierarchy of broader, narrower, and related terms. This infographic illustrates the process: PDF on ERIC How Are ERIC Thesaurus Descriptors Assigned?

Why should I use descriptors in my search?

All ERIC records are tagged with descriptors, which are used to indicate the subjects addressed in the article, report, or book indexed in ERIC. Descriptors can help you narrow your search to the most relevant materials matching your search criteria. See our video to find out how these terms can enhance your search.

How do I know what descriptors to use in my search?

There are two main methods for finding descriptors for your ERIC search: (1) by searching or browsing the ERIC Thesaurus and (2) by reviewing descriptors that appear on the left side of the search results page and on relevant records in ERIC search results. Reading a descriptor’s scope note can help you decide whether a descriptor will help in your search. You can also review the broader and narrower terms in the scope note to see more descriptor options. Two videos explain how to find descriptors that match your research topic: Finding the Right Descriptors for Your ERIC Search and Using Broader and Narrower Terms from the ERIC Thesaurus:

How many terms are in the Thesaurus?

The ERIC Thesaurus contains nearly 12,000 terms, including more than 4,500 descriptors and 7,000 synonyms. There are also 132 dead terms that are no longer used as descriptors but remain in the Thesaurus to aid in searching older records. For the list of terms included in the latest Thesaurus update, please access the Thesaurus Purpose and Scope page.

What are broader and narrower terms in the ERIC Thesaurus? How are they useful?

The ERIC Thesaurus is structured to provide easy access to closely related subjects. This structure includes hierarchical relationships between terms. These are represented by broader terms, or more general subjects, and narrower terms, or more specific subjects. You can use these terms to locate additional descriptors when building a search. See this video for guidance on using broader and narrower terms from the ERIC Thesaurus:

How is the ERIC Thesaurus maintained?

The ERIC Thesaurus goes through periodic updates to ensure that it reflects the terminology used in ERIC content. Thesaurus updates capture new terms, such as new fields of study, and modify existing terms to reflect changes in terminology. The most recent Thesaurus update was in 2023. Access the list of changes on the Thesaurus Purpose and Scope page and the infographic depicting ERIC’s Thesaurus maintenance process: PDF on ERIC How ERIC Develops Thesaurus Terms. To learn more about recent Thesaurus updates and how the Thesaurus is maintained, access the recorded webinars, videos, and infographics in the ERIC website’s Multimedia section.

What is a dead term?

A dead term is a Thesaurus descriptor that is no longer used to tag ERIC content but remains in the Thesaurus to aid in searching older records. If you are looking for historical material, you may find it helpful to check the“Include Dead Terms" box when searching the Thesaurus.

What are identifiers?

Identifiers are proper nouns that provide additional subject information about an article, report, or book indexed in ERIC. Identifiers fall into three categories: (1) locations; (2) laws, policies, and programs; and (3) assessments and surveys. ERIC records are tagged with identifiers when specifically noted in the content; there is no requirement that an identifier be assigned to every document. They can be used as limiters to help narrow your search. The infographic PDF on ERIC What are ERIC Identifiers? shows the use of identifiers to enhance searches in ERIC.

Where can I find a list of ERIC identifiers?

ERIC has posted the three lists of identifiers on the website:


Laws, Policies, and Programs

Assessments and Surveys

How can identifiers help me in a search?

A search using identifiers is more specific than a keyword search – it will return only records tagged with the identifier. See ERIC’s Advanced Search Tips for guidance on how to search using identifiers and learn more about identifiers in our video.

How can I search for specific identifiers?

Use this format for exact, case-sensitive identifier field searches -- locationx:term, lawx:term, or assessmentx:term.

Does ERIC update identifiers?

The ERIC identifiers are periodically updated to ensure that they reflect the terminology used in ERIC content. ERIC updated the list of identifiers in January 2023.For the current lists of identifiers, visit the identifiers section of the Thesaurus Purpose and Scope page.