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GRDG 620 - Literacy and Linguistically Diverse Learners - Sheryl Scales

Searching Library Databases


Ahhh searching:

We have all been trained by Google.  Google pays lots of people lots of money to make searching "easier".  They interpret your search terms.  They rank results effectively.  They constantly revise their tools.

Library databases are not Google.

YOU need to exercise control over what and how you search to a much greater degree.  You need to revise your searches to create the most effective search you can. You need to turn into the biggest control freak you can.  What is an effective search?  One where a very high percentage of the results are useful to you.  if you get 100 results and only 2 of them are helpful, that is a bad search.  If you get 100 results and 87 are useful, that is a good search.

How to craft an effective search:

The first thing to acknowledge is that your first search attempt is not your best search attempt.  Revise, revise, revise.  The time you spend searching is more than made up for by getting good articles and not having to go back and do it all over again.

  • Be willing to refine and refine and refine your search based on what you learn from each previous search
  • Adjust vocabulary
  • Use SUBJECT searching effectively by really understanding what it is and how searching in different fields changes the results
  • Pay attention to what the advanced search screen can do for you - each database will have it's own nuances
  • Try more than one database
  • If you are going to be using a given database over and over and over again, read the help screens and learn the really advanced features (thesauri, creating your own account, command language...)
  • For education in particular, learn about the ERIC database which will be available to you when you graduate
  • Learn how to get articles that aren't immediately available - through Interlibrary Loan as a student, but through other means as a practicing professional

Search Techniques:

  • Use the four main search techniques for connecting your search vocabulary:
    • AND - to connect different ideas 
      • TESOL and literacy
    • ( OR ) - to contain synonym in a group to be searched together 
      • (TESOL or ESL) and (literacy or reading)
    • quotation marks - to keep words together that express a single idea
      • (TESOL or " Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages" or ESL or "English as a Second Language")
    • Wildcard character - to catch multiple endings of a word.
      • (TESOL or ESL) and (math*) and ("story problem" or "word problem")
  • Use the limiters on the left side of the results lists to hone in on useful items, e.g.
    • Recent
    • Articles from Academic Journal
    • in English
  • Use the Advanced Search screen parameters to hone in on a particular aspect of your field
    • Grade level
    • Audience
    • Type of publication


  • Once you find something useful, capture it by using the permalink provided.  DO NOT copy and past the URL at the top of the browser window.
  • Keep track of what you are doing.  You will NOT remember where you where and what you searched with and what you did.  For Ebsco databases, just copy and past your search history from a search session


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SUNY Potsdam College Libraries
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Potsdam, NY 13617