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Advanced Searching Techniques: Nesting

What is nesting?

When conducting research, often times your topic will have ideas or concepts that can be expressed multiple ways.

For example:

  • Teenagers might also be described as adolescents, youth, teens, or young adults.
  • Higher education might also be referred to as post-secondary education, tertiary education, colleges or universities.
  • Online learning might also be referred to as distance learning, virtual learning, e-learning, or even correspondence school.

To retrieve the broadest set of search results, you may include several variations of your search terms using the "nesting" approach.

Nesting uses parentheses ( ) to keep concepts that are alike together, and to tell the database to look for search terms in the parentheses first.

Nesting also uses the Boolean operator OR to connect like terms and the Boolean operator AND to connect the like terms to the rest of the search.



Searching using nesting techniques

For example, in the nested search below, the database will first find any of the words in parentheses and then look for the second term depression.

(teenager OR adolescent) and depression

Visual representative of above instructions

You may also use nesting when you are interested in two different aspects of a topic. For example, if you were looking for symptoms and treatments for schizophrenia, you might use a search like this:

(symptoms OR treatments) AND schizophrenia

Visual representative of above instructions




Why is nesting important?

Searches may yield vastly different results if the parentheses are omitted. Let’s take a look at an example with and without nesting to illustrate.

Example one: “community college” AND (leadership OR administration) 

Example two: “community college” AND leadership OR administration

In the first example, a search for “community college” AND (leadership OR administration) will yield records that deal with either community college leadership or community college administration. This is an effective search.

However, in the second example, a search for “community college” AND leadership OR administration (with parenthesis omitted) will yield records that deal with community college leadership, or deal with administration alone. In this example, we see that failure to include the parentheses disconnects the term “administration” from the rest of our search. This is likely to lead to an overwhelming number of irrelevant articles in your search results.

In databases such as EBSCOhost, which provide drop down boxes containing the Boolean operators AND, OR and NOT, it is easy to inadvertently search without using proper nesting. 

For example, for the reasons discussed above, you will not want to set up your search like this:

Visual representative of above instructions  Instead, you will want to use the nesting technique within a single search box, as shown below.

Visual representative of above instructions

*Note: This search uses the phrase searching technique. Click here for more information. 

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