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How to research health topics efficiently
As a health pro, you probably get asked A LOT of questions about A TON of health topics!
- “I have X issue, what should I eat?”
- “I’d love to reach Y goal, should I take a supplement?”
- “I’ve heard that you should do Z, but I’ve also heard that you absolutely shouldn’t do Z—what’s the truth?”
Or, my personal favourite:
- “What are your thoughts on the latest health headline/news?”
(At this point, I take a deep breath and exhale the gut-wrenching frustration—not at my clients or audience—but at the amount of inaccurate health information out there in the media and on the internet.)
In all honesty, you want to help your clients reach their health goals, so making the most evidence-based recommendation is important.
Do you avoid creating content on health topics that includes a ton of facts that need referencing because it takes you soooo long? Are you a health pro who wants the most up-to-date and accurate health information for your practice, but you don’t always have the time for it? Does the word “tedious” come to mind? 😬
If yes, then this article is for you!
To maintain and build your authority and credibility as a health expert, you want to make sure you’re giving the best health information.To maintain and build your authority & credibility as an expert, you want to make sure you're giving the best health information. #Health #Credible #Research Click To Tweet
So, how do you research health topics efficiently?
The really good news is that there are websites with good quality, accurate, and credible health information. And you don’t have to spend hours finding and deciphering studies written in the language of “science-ese.”
Let me show you the way.
Benefits of researching health topics
There are lots of benefits to researching health topics. First of all, it’s best to give your clients the most accurate information so they have more chances for success (and less chance for harm). Also, having well-researched content boosts your credibility because our knowledge is expanding, so it’s possible that what you learned way back in school or what’s out on the web may not be the most up-to-date.
And . . .
Research doesn’t have to take a ton of time if you have a goal, a good list of resources, and an efficient process!
Today we’ll go over:
- How many references do you need for your health content?
- List of credible sites to research health topics.
- Steal my step-by-step process for efficient researching.
1 – How many references do you need to create content on your health topic?
Honestly, a blog post, video, podcast episode or social media post is not an assignment for your research thesis. Your instructor isn’t marking it. I’m not marking it. It’s your blog post for your website and your audience. And that means that YOU decide how much research is enough.
IMHO, the ideal number of references really depends on the type of post it is, because some need more references than others.
For example, is your post
- A collection of short tips or a recipe with “fun facts” about the ingredients?
- An opinion piece?
- The answer to one simple question?
- An update on the newest study?
- Meant to be educational, or even a one-stop shop for that particular health topic?
While there really are no hard and fast rules, here’s what I personally do and recommend.
Short tips or recipes with “fun facts” (~0-3 references)
If you’re publishing a few tips or “fun facts,” having a reference for each of your facts is always a good idea.
Opinion pieces (~0-3 references)
If you agree with the accepted position on a health topic, you probably don’t need too many references.
However, if you disagree, or put out another contrary point, then you definitely want some legit ammo to back you up.
Example: This blog post (that you’re reading right now) is my opinion piece (it’s under the “Leesa’s thoughts” category on my blog). I’m just writing what I think based on what I’ve seen. In this case, since I’m not making health recommendations, so I’m not worried about references.
Answering a simple question on a health topic (~0-3 references)
How many references you need to answer a simple question depends if you’re telling a story about a personal experience or if you want to provide a comprehensive answer. Telling a story about your personal experience probably doesn’t need any references. The more comprehensive your answer, the more references you should have.
Update on the newest study (~0-3 references)
If you’re summarizing one study, like I do in the done-for-you health articles called Health scoop (new study updates) then that’s the reference you definitely need. If you’re mentioning other information that’s not covered in that study, then you should get references for those things too.
Example: I recently recorded a podcast episode all about a new study that found that ghrelin (the hunger hormone) is also a stress hormone. That episode was a really in-depth review, but I only needed to use that one study as the reference because it was all based on that study.
Educational post on a health topic (~1-6 references)
Educating someone on a health topic should be pretty thoroughly researched, IMHO.
These are the type of articles I love to create. This what I do for the done-for-you full-length health articles that I sell to health pros to be used as blog posts, newsletters, handouts, programs, etc. Each of my educational “premium” articles are at least 2,000 words long, come in 2-3 parts, and have at least 14 scientific references.
Example (for sale): My recent done-for-you premium article is on health throughout pregnancy and breastfeeding. It boasts 6,077 words in 3 parts and cites 33 scientific references.
Comprehensive one-stop-shop for that health topic (a.k.a. “epic” post or ebook) (~6+ references)
Creating an amazing piece of content to be a one-stop-shop for a particular topic should be comprehensive. Publishing an epic post or ebook should be thoroughly referenced. And hopefully, if you’ve written something this good, it’ll rank on Google for your keywords and get shared on social media.
Example: Here’s my latest ebook “The Real Deal About Calcium and Your Bones” that you can download for free. It boasts 6,000+ words and 39 references.How many references do you need for a blog post on a health topic? Find out here. #healthtopic #research Click To Tweet
So, hopefully, this gives you a guideline on the number of references you’re aiming for, based on what you’re creating. Now onto part 2 . . .
2 – Credible sites to research health topics
Check out this list of reliable resources on health and wellness topics.
3 – Steal my efficient researching process
You may not be able to (or want to) spend all day researching health topics.
Since I could (#NerdAlert), I had to develop a system to get the most out of my time researching. While I love to get caught up in a health topic, I need time to write, edit, and have a life too!
Now that you know approximately how many references you want depending on the type of post (part 1 above), and know the websites to search (part 2 above), the next thing is starting.
First step – Have a specific health topic
Looking up a broad health topic like “Is dairy healthy?” is going to get you a ton of search results and take a ton of time. That’s because the more results you get, the more you have to sift through to find the best one for you.
Research is more efficient when you can be specific like “Is milk a good source of calcium?” So, choose your specific health topic and search for those keywords.
If you don’t find enough when you start specific, you can always broaden your search terms if you need to.
Stick to your one health topic and allocated time
Create a new document and remember how many references you want for your post (from part 1 above) and decide on the amount of time you are going to spend. I budget anywhere from 2-6 references per hour. Now you can set your timer.
The key here is to always decide on a maximum number of references, or minutes, and stick to it. You don’t want to go overboard as you’ll lose your efficiency. In science we call these decisions made before doing our experiment “a priori estimates.” So, decide in advance what specific health topic you’re researching and the time you have budgeted, and stick to it.
Open your internet browser
Now that you have your specific health topic on your doc, list the sites you’re going to search.
You can download my uber-comprehensive list here:
Open your first site and type your specific health topic into the search query. If you get no hits, change the wording slightly, break it into smaller pieces, or broaden it. Still nothing? Move to the next site. Don’t spend too long, as none of the sites (except PubMed) are going to have every health topic and keyword.
Review each hit – quickly
Scroll down the first page of search results. Have a quick look at the title and/or first paragraph and if it sounds good, open it. Don’t read it, just do a quick skim (I take this opportunity to check the publication date because I prefer references published in the last <10 years).
If the reference looks useful, copy the URL into your health topic document.
Hit the “back” button and move onto the next item in your search result.
When you have gotten the best from that website then move on to the next website.
Stop researching when you hit your a priori estimate or run out of time
Get a few more references than you want (remember, allow 30-40% more than you want for your final result). Since you’re not spending time to read through them yet, you may have a few duds or ones that cover the same info.
Alternatively, if you’ve set a timer, stop when it goes off.
Then stop researching.
Respect your a priori decision and don’t get trapped in a black hole.
When you’re ready to create content on your health topic, read through each reference
Now that you have your reference URLs, you’re done your preliminary research!
When you’re ready to write about your health topic, open each URL, and read it thoroughly. If any aren’t exactly what you need, feel free to discard them.
Write up your post and don’t forget to include all of those referenced links!
You can link to them throughout your post, or put them alphabetically at the end of your post. You can even use superscripts and number them, then list them all in numerical order at the very end.
You’re welcome! 🙂Steal my efficient step-by-step process to research health topics #efficient #health #research Click To Tweet
Now you know how to find and efficiently use credible resources to research health topics!
There really is no need to spend countless hours, on a “tedious” process. You can be an efficient research machine! And the more you do it, the better you get at it.
Today we talked about:
- How many references you need for your blog post;
- Credible sites to research health topics; and,
- Steal my step-by-step process for efficient researching.
Signing off and toasting: To more efficient quality health research!
Over to you
What do you think? Does this make you feel like you can be more efficient at your health research? Do you have a tip I missed? Do you have any questions?
Let me know in the comments and I’ll personally reply!
Originally published in July 2017; updated with more awesomeness in Feb 2018 and May 2022.
Featured products for your credible health blog:
I’m Leesa Klich, MSc., R.H.N.
Health writer – Blogging expert – Research nerd.
I help health and wellness professionals build their authority with scientific health content. They want to stand out in the crowded, often unqualified, market of entrepreneurs. I help them establish trust with their audiences, add credibility to their services, and save them a ton of time so they don’t have to do the research or writing themselves. To work with me, click here.