How To Do Research For A Blog Post

in General

How To Do Research For A Blog Post (My Process Explained)

I'm sorry for my mom. Having had to cope with a messy kid like me must have been pretty harsh for an order and tidiness lover as she is.

My excuse always was: "Genius can't be constrained, mom!".
What a pompous self-absorbed little prick I was.

I keep my room messy

The problem is that I really don't know how to create order. I might start a new system for a few weeks (pff...who am I kidding, days!) and then I manage to get the new system even messier than the old one.

My documents at home, are all scattered around. My lab bench makes my PI cringe every time. The only thing I put in a sort of order are my clothes...more or less.

The problem with lack of organization can reveal itself pretty painfully when it comes to doing research.

When I write some of my epic research based posts for this blog, it can get pretty messy. I find and read a ton of papers and I have always been relying on my "big brain" to store information that I will be able to look up for later.

Needless to say, I waste a shitton of time trying to find the papers again when I need to reference them while writing the blog post.

I tried more or less everything: Evernote, Word, Excel, a notebook, hundreds of post-it that get regularly lost, Mendeley, Scrivener. These are all cool tools. They do what they promise you to do: organize and store information in a neat and searchable fashion. That would work if I were like that, but I'm not.

I'm scattered, I need to see the bigger picture, I'm a visual person and maybe you are too.

I long struggled to find a tool that could suit my needs for a visual storage of my information as for mind trees with the easiness of retrieval and tidiness as for Evernote. In the beginning I was thinking that I could use Pinterest for that. I played around with it but it's not as flexible as I wanted it to be.

Until I found it.

Trello. (to be read while a choir of angels sings hallelujah)

Trello is really all I have been always looking for. It is a visual board on steroids. You can pin stuff to it. But you can organize your stuff in lists and practically do whatever you want with each item, even attaching files!

I'm gonna share with you now, how I organize my research for a blog post with Trello.


#1 Finding The Relevant Papers

This sounds like the most tedious part but it can easily become the most exciting. Here is where you find out new things and get all excited to know more and more and more.

The risk here is to start looking for "benefits cold shower" and ending up reading how "Adults can be trained to acquire synesthetic experiences". For this reason, I have a miscellanea list in my Research board on Trello for cases like this ones.

It's ok to get lost in unrelated topics because by serendipity you can discover new ones on which you can write later on. I'm going to tell you further in this post how to save these serendipity moments for future work.

How To Find Scientific Papers

There are two major search engines for scientific literature: PubMed and Google Scholar.

Choosing the keywords is the most tricky part because you need to know first of all how certain concepts are normally called by the scientists in the field.
For instance, lifting is called "resistance training" or "resistance exercise".
For this, you need to go tentatively and the more you read about a topic, the more you'll get into the lingo.

I have a string that I use to find with higher probability, papers related to fitness and bodybuilding:

AND ("resistance training" OR "resistance exercise" OR hypertrophy OR mTor OR "muscle hypertrophy" OR bodybuilding) -rats -mice -mouse -rats -rabbit -monkey -pig -dog -poultry -lamb -chicken -porcine

So, what I normally do is adding the keyword of the topic I'm looking to know more about to the beginning of that string.

Example: say that I want to know more about caffeine and bodybuilding, then I write in Google Scholar:

caffeine AND ("resistance training" OR "resistance exercise" OR hypertrophy OR mTor OR "muscle hypertrophy" OR bodybuilding) -rats -mice -mouse -rats -rabbit -monkey -pig -dog -poultry -lamb -chicken -porcine

This string will look for my keyword and show me all the results in which any of the keywords between brackets are also present.

Google Scholar example

That list of animals that you can read at the end of the string is to exclude animal studies. They are irrelevant for us because most of the time results between human and animals vastly differ.

One of the main differences between Google Scholar and Pubmed is that the former shows you the results in order of relevance with, usually, the most seminal papers showing at the beginning. Pubmed, on the other hand, shows you by default the paper in descending chronological order so from the most recent to the oldest. In Google Sscholar, you can also see how many times each paper has been cited. If a paper it has been cited a lot, most likely that paper is important.

If I'm unfamiliar with a topic my very first step is to look for meta-analysis or reviews on it. I do so with this string:

AND (meta-analysis OR review) AND ("resistance training" OR "resistance exercise" OR hypertrophy OR mTor OR "muscle hypertrophy" OR bodybuilding) -rats -mice -mouse -rats -rabbit -monkey -pig -dog -poultry -lamb -chicken -porcine A meta-analysis

A meta-analysis is a statistical analysis that combines the results of multiple scientific studies (according to Wikipedia). This makes sure that a pattern can emerge from different studies about a certain topic which has some statistical validity.

When I look for meta-analysis, I make sure to prefer the most recent ones, written in the latest 3 years so that they include the most recent papers on the topic.

After getting my results, I read the abstracts of each paper. If the abstract gives me the idea that the paper is pertinent with my topic I proceed to read the full article.

I'm not cherrypicking papers that only confirm what I believe, I select both sides but I discard papers that are not relevant which can still come up even if the quesry string is pretty detailed like the one I use.

Before reading all the papers I selected, I put them in chronological order from the oldest to the most recent. A convenient way to do so is to open a new window in Chrome and sort each paper in a different tab with tab number 1 containing the oldest paper.

How To Download Scientific Papers When You Don't Have Access

How to Download Scientific Papers

If you are a student/PhD/Post-doc or you work in a University then for you it's easy because most universities have subscriptions to the most famous journals. What if a certain paper is in a journal to which your univesity is not subscribed to?

Here we enter into grey territory. You have several options:

  1. Write to the corresponding author and normally they should send you the pdf. But who has time to wait when there are so many papers to read? Let's enter this grey territory.
  2. ResearchGate: here you need luck. Most of the time I can't find papers I need here but, hey, you might be luckyier than me.
  3. /r/Scholar: here you ask for other people with access to maybe different subscriptions than you to get the paper for you.
  4. Fiverr: I'm pretty sure this is not legal but you can find a student of some asian university willing to share with you his login credentials to access the university library for 5$
  5. (my favorite) Sci-hub: amazing Russian website where you just post the link to the paper and you immediately get the pdf version of it. It works through some shady system but their mission is noble and I second it: knowledge should be free, especially considering that public money, most of the time, helped to finance it.

#2 How To Read A Scientific Paper

Once you have decided to read a paper you need to know how to do it.
Examine.com has a cool guide here. For an entire book on the subject, check  How to Read a Paper by Prof. Greenhalgh which is recommended by Ben Goldacre in his awesome "Bad Science".

This is a way to do it (and the way I do it anyway):

1

INTRODUCTION

If you are not very familiar with the topic, read the introduction which also helps you finding other relevant papers.

2

MATERIALS & METHODS

If you are familiar with the topic, jump to materials and methods. Here you can find how the study was performed.

This is where you need to be super-critical.

Does everything check out? Can you spot any error or bias? Are the compared group similar? Are their diets and macros compensated for? Are the training volumes or intensity equated? Which placebo is used? Is the study randomized and double-blinded?

This is the part that requires most of your attention.

3

FORMULATE HYPOTHESIS

Having read the way they performed the experiment, what am I expecting to see in the results?

4

RESULTS

Read the results. Are they as I expected? If not, why?

5

DISCUSSION

Read the discussion to see what the authors make of the results.

6

TAKE NOTES

Write down your notes on what is relevant in this paper, why is it relevant and where in the bigger picture this paper fits in.


#3 How To Organize Scientific Research With Trello

And now we get to the part where you organize all the paper you found and your notes and original documents.

Let me give you a quick breakdown of Trello.

You have boards. You can create as many boards as you want. I even have one with the books I want to check out, my meal plan (gonna make a post about this soon), the editorial calendar of the Broscientist, and of course, one called "Research".

In each boards you can create lists and each list can have notes. Each note is made of title, description, label, comments, and attached files.

This is how I organize my research papers with Trello.

Trello Blog Post Research

In the "Research" board I create a list for each topic I want to research about. Let's say I create a list called caffeine for the sake of the previous example.

Once I have the list of papers I am going to use for the research, I use the Trello bookmarklet to send each paper to my research board in the appropriate list according to the topic it belongs. In this way, if you stumble upon unrelated but yet interesting papers, you can send it to another list by using this bookmarklet.

Trello bookmarlket example

Trello automatically pulls the tile of the paper which will become the title of the note and sometimes it also pulls the abstract which becomes the description of the note. Once the note is created I upload the paper pdf in it by simply dragging and dropping the file in the note.

At this point, as comment I will add my notes and quotes from the paper that I find relevant.

Another cool feature is the possibility to use labels that will put a color next to each note so that you can easily spot a certain note.

I use this in this way:

Green: the paper confirms the hypothesis
Red: the paper refutes the hypothesis
Yellow: the paper shows ambiguous/no effect

In this way, I can immediately see which paper belongs to which side of the argument.

Once I have enough data, I proceed to write the article with now being super easy to retrieve information whenever I need it!


BONUS: How To Stay Updated On A Certain Topic

In Google Scholar you can create two kind of alerts.

One sends you an email when a certain author you follow, publishes a new paper. For instance, I follow Brad Schoenfeld, Stuart Phillips, James Krieger, Bret Contreras, Eric Helms, Alan Aragon, William Kraemer, and Michael Zourdos.

Google Scholar follow author

In the second type of alert, you can get notified when new papers are published which relate to a certain query you select. In this way, you will never miss important updates on certain topics you care about.

Google Scholar create alert

Conclusions

In this post you have seen how to do research for a blog post and how to organize it neatly and awesomely with Trello.

Now, go out there and write a badass blogpost and let me know in the comments below the link so I can read it and be proud!

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P.S. If you want to be coached by me and you are badass, committed af and ready to change your life, send me an email to alex@thebroscientist.com. I take on only the most motivated and serious people so if you are not like that, don't contact me, please.