How do the databases A+ Education, ProQuest and ERIC really work?

 A+Education, ProQuest and ERIC (More scholarly, journal article databases)

After searching for hours using all 3 of these databases and the query terms ‘inquiry based learning’ AND primary AND SOSE (and a variety of synonyms thrown in amidst), many similarities in the way the databases searched for articles, became obvious to me.

  • When I used the Boolean operators AND and NOT, I narrowed my search, and when I used OR,  I broadened my search.


  • I could type query terms in separate search boxes connected by the AND, OR and NOT Boolean operators, but in the case of A+ Education, to make my search even more specific, I could use a compound search by copying and pasting all query terms together into search box 1, leaving the other search boxes available for additional query terms. Unlike A+ Education, I tried using a compound search in ProQuest, but found that my search broadened significantly, whereas in the ERIC database, compound searching made no difference to the results.
  • Also, by changing the database to search from ‘any field’ (which covers everything), to ‘in subject’ (subject headings only), the search narrowed considerably, especially using the search term SOSE. When I searched from ‘in title only’ for (Inquiry based learning AND inquiry AND information literacy) in the ERIC database, I found more specific articles, but in my particular case, not relevant for my needs.

A+ Education

A+ Education is based on the Australian Education Index (AEI), which is an ‘indexing and full text database that provides access to journal articles from published material on all aspects of education in Australia.’ When you use this database:

  • I didn’t have to use quotation marks ” ” as it searches for the exact phrase automatically
  • There is a great list of search tips (see image)
  • I could limit the search to full-text records only and specify a particular date range and found both Tambyah (2008) articles.
  • If the key word I was searching for was highlighted in the identifier (which has been indexed by a librarian), I found that this source may not have been as good as if the key word had been highlighted in the formal subject headings
  • Sometimes I found that a query term, like ‘inquiry based learning’, found in the abstract section of the record, showed up both with and without a hyphen, but when found in the identifier and subject sections, it always showed up without a hyphen
  • I could broaden my search by using a variety of similar terms using the OR Boolean operator, for example Year 6, Year six, Grade 6 and Grade six. 
  • When I searched for a term such as ‘society and the environment’, this database picked up each word individually, so I had to remember to take out ‘the’ and put in ‘society and environment’
  • Always make use of what I call ‘the breadcrumbs’ (see image) when using this database as it can save you a whole lot of time. It remembers every search you have done from the beginning.

Other sources I found using this database were the two Collins (2010 and 2009) articles and Walker (2010).

ERIC – An Education only American database, which would have to be my least favourite of all 3 databases because:

  • Even after putting quotation marks around specific query terms, this database searched for the words both as an exact phrase and as separate words, which was extremely frustrating
  • When searching for the term ‘inquiry based learning’ I found these words highlighted throughout the various articles with a hyphen, without a hyphen, in the exact phrase and each word separately, sometimes all within the same article, sometimes throughout different articles. If you are confused now, image what it was like for me trying to find an article that suited my needs – too much hard work!
  • I got no results using the search terms SOSE AND primary AND inquiry based learning and I used ‘social studies’ instead of SOSE and got 2 results
  • I found that a majority of these articles were too old or just not appropriate
  • I also observed that the key word ‘primary’ was referred to in the context of a primary resource rather than a primary class, therefore most of the information I found was unrelated to my needs
  • Throughout the whole time I spent searching for sources on this database, I found NO relevant articles

ProQuest – An American database of Education Journals, which is similar in many ways to both Google and Google Scholar

  • This database found each word in the search box separately (like Google), unless you used quotation marks
  • Being an American database, I had to use the term ‘social studies’ instead of SOSE
  • When I broadened my search to include “year 6, grade 6, grade six OR year six” I found probably one of the best resources out of all of the databases in Asselin (2001)
  • It has a great Advanced Search search feature which uses the Boolean operators AND, OR and NOT as well as being able to search by source type (eg scholarly journals)
  • The thesaurus I found to be very useful for finding synonyms as ProQuest is renown for its massive database (not just Education)
  • On occasion whilst skimming through the results, I found that some of the key words were highlighted in the reference section only – not very useful!
  • On the downside, when I tried to modify an advanced search by adding/changing a term/s, the database looked for the last word added in the search and not all terms in the search. I also found that I needed to change the date range box and tick the scholarly journals box every time I modified a search. If I forgot, it remembered the last search and did not update the new dates or scholarly journals (very frustrating!)
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