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Information Literacy for First Year Students: Lesson 5: Phrase searching, snowballing and nesting

Information Literacy Programme for first year students. Start with "Home" and finish with "Unit 7: Information Identity" Assistance to enrol, click here Blackboard user

Phrase searching

Phrase Searching means searching for two or more words as an exact phrase. This allows you to find documents containing a particular phrase e.g. “air pollution” or “biofuel energy”.


Try Snowballing: assuming you find at least one relevant journal article you can use that as a basis for future searches, for example:

Look at the list of references at the end of the article to see what related work the author has cited.


  • Nesting (or 'GROUPING') is a keyword search technique that keeps alike concepts together, and tells a search engine or database to search those terms placed in parentheses first.
  • Using Nesting in your search requires that the items in parentheses be searched first. Generally the items in parentheses are linked by the Boolean Operator "OR."
  • Use Nesting when you are trying to link two or more concepts that may have many synonyms, or may be represented by a number of different terms to obtain more comprehensive search results.
  • Example: Using (South Africa OR Africa) AND HIV/AIDS will search South Africa or Africa first