We discuss a multistep variational approach for the study of many-body correlations. The approach is developed in a boson formalism (bosons representing particle-hole excitations) and based on an iterative sequence of diagonalizations in subspaces of the full boson space. Purpose of these diagonalizations is that of searching for the best approximation of the ground state of the system. The procedure also leads us to define a set of excited states and, at the same time, of operators which generate these states as a result of their action on the ground state. We examine the cases in which these operators carry one-particle one-hole and up to two-particle two-hole excitations. We also explore the possibility of associating bosons to Tamm-Dancoff excitations and of describing the spectrum in terms of only a selected group of these. Tests within an exactly solvable three-level model are provided.