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Tarleton State University Libraries Unit 4
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image of a bird's nest   Nested Terms are terms and/or phrases linked together in a particular order or with a specific relationship using parentheses (or other types of punctuation like quotation marks).

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Nested terms help searchers fine-tune searches by letting users specify relationships between search terms to retrieve more precise results. This technique is especially useful when combining words that have various spellings and/or synonyms with other terms. Also, nested terms let users determine the order in which terms are searched rather than relying on the search mechanism's default.

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Nested terms work in the same manner as mathematical equations that include parentheses. Terms inside the parentheses are searched first, then terms outside the parentheses are added to the search.

For example, if you needed articles discussing the influence of group members' gender on decision-making processes and what that means to managers, the following nested search should yield useful articles:
•  (decision-making or "decision making") and (gender or sex) and (group* or team*) and management
NOTE: Using a symbol (*) to enable simultaneous searches for singular and plural forms is discussed on the truncation page in this unit.

In the example given, the search will locate variant spellings (i.e. decision-making or decision making), synonyms (i.e. gender or sex; group or team), singular and plural forms (i.e. group* and team*), then link these results to the term "management" along with the boolean operator "and" to return only those results that meet the search requirements.

Sometimes search tools activate nested searches from left to right, so the sequence in which terms are entered may influence the number of results retrieved. Depending on the search engine, a search using nested terms may result in records or items being returned only if the terms searched appear in the particular order expressed within the search.

Therefore, you should start your search by reading the online help tips in the search tool, and then assemble your search words in the sequence indicated by the help tips.

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The sequence of terms will probably be determined by choosing the most definitive terms and arranging them in the order in which the search engine activates the search (usually from left to right).

In the example above, decision-making seems to be the most important and unique term, so it was chosen as the starting term. Other terms were then added in decreasing order of importance or uniqueness:

•  decision-making and gender and group and management

The next step is to consider whether any of the chosen terms have variant spellings and synonyms, or might be used as plural or singular terms. Terms are then adjusted as needed and "nested" using the appropriate symbol. In this case, parentheses were used and the resultant search string is

•  (decision-making or "decision making") and (gender or sex) and (group* or team*) and management

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