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Library - Information Literacy Module: Tutorial 4: Phrase searching, snowballing and nesting

Information literacy for UJ students. Start with "1 Why Information Literacy" and end with "9 Writing & Referencing"


  • Neo must begin with only 2-3 terms. Avoid long phrases. (The more terms Neo enters, the fewer results he will get.)
  • If Neo's first term doesn’t work, he can try a synonym or a broader term.
    Subject terms show how a database organises records:
  • These terms can help Neo to locate more items on that topic and  related topics.

STEP 1: Phrase searching

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

STEP 2: Snowballing

Neo can try Snowballing: assuming he finds at least one relevant journal article he can use as a basis for future searches, for example:

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

STEP 3: Nesting

  • 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 a search requires that the items in parentheses be searched first. Generally, the items in parentheses are linked by the Boolean Operator "OR."
  • Neo can use Nesting when he is 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