How to research health topics efficiently

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How to research health topics efficiently

(NOTE: This was originally published in July 2017, and was updated & republished on Feb 16, 2018.)

research health topics efficiently


As a health & wellness professional, you probably get asked A LOT of questions.

  • “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?”

(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 best (i.e. most credible) recommendation is important.

Like me, you may also be frustrated at the conflicting health information out there. (Can we just stop jumping on the latest bandwagon, a.k.a. study, Every. Single. Day?)

On one hand, you want to keep up-to-date with the latest research and news stories. You want to be open-minded enough to be able to intelligently integrate new credible, applicable health information where it makes sense.

On the other hand, you want to use your professional judgement and some reasonable skepticism to spot fake health news. Sometimes, a bit of quality research is in order.

To maintain and build your authority and credibility as an expert, you want to make sure you’re giving the best health recommendations based on 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 recommendations based on the best health information. #health #credible #authority Click To Tweet

So, where do you find accurate and credible research on these health topics quickly?

There are websites with good quality, accurate, 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.

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It’s important to research health topics


It’s important to research health topics because you can give your clients the most accurate and up-to-date information. Also, having well-researched articles boost your credibility because they show that you made the effort to get good information. You’re not just parroting what you learned way back in school, or what’s out on the web; or worse, proselytizing.


Researching health topics takes time. I know!

Do you avoid writing blog posts with facts that need referencing because it takes you soooo long? Are you a practitioner 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?

There are ways to research health topics efficiently. It doesn’t have to take umpteen hours every single week.

I have a complete process so you can make the most of your limited research time. And I’ll share my step-by-step tried-and-true process so you can see how easy it can be.

Today we’ll go over:

  1. How many references you need for your blog post;
  2. Credible sites to research health topics; and,
  3. Steal my step-by-step process for efficient researching.
Researching health topics doesn't have to be tedious - Grab my efficient process here. #health #research Click To Tweet


1 – How many references you need for a blog post


Honestly, a blog 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”

If you’re publishing a few tips or “fun facts,” having a reference for each of your facts is always a good idea.

Example: Here is a recipe for a Blueberry Basil Smoothie complete with some healthy facts (called “brainy bites”) about the ingredients. You’ll note that it also contains a few scientific references thrown in to back those facts up.

Opinion pieces

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 probably want some 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

This 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 doesn’t need many references. The more comprehensive your answer, the more references you should have.

Update on the newest study

If you’re summarizing one study, then that’s the reference you definitely need. If you’re mentioning other information, then you should get references for those things too.

Example: Last week I finished a 2-part review of a recent study that looked at the effects of white bread vs traditionally prepared sourdough bread on several blood tests and gut microbes. That post was a really in-depth review, but I only needed to use that one study as the reference.

Educational post on a health topic

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” health articles that I sell to practitioners for blog posts, newsletters, and programs. My educational “done for you” posts are typically 1,000-4,000 words long, and have 6 or more scientific references.

Example (for sale): My most recent “done for you” article is Vitamin D: Are you getting enough? It boasts 2,300 words and 29 scientific references.

Example (on my blog): My 3,500+ word, 9 reference post on Melatonin Supplements – What do they actually do? on my blog.

Comprehensive one-stop-shop for that health topic (a.k.a. “epic” post or ebook)

These articles/ebooks are comprehensive. They should be referenced appropriately. 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.

Example: Chris Masterjohn’s epic 18,000+ word (excluding the infographics) Ultimate Vitamin K2 Resource has over 100 references! Not only is this guy super-smart, but he personally responded to my email asking him how much fat is needed to absorb enough vitamin K2. To which he replied that we don’t know the exact amount, which makes sense, since I couldn’t find it when I did my research.

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


Once you’ve decided how many references you want, it’s time to find quality ones.

I group online health references into three main categories:

  • Credible (well-referenced) blogs;
  • Credible institutional blogs and websites;
  • PubMed.

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Credible, well-referenced blogs

As you can probably guess, referencing other blogs is going to be the most efficient. This is because you can choose a few easy-to-read blog posts on the health topic and quickly learn a lot. You can use that information to make a health recommendation or create your own unique post with your unique words and angle. If you have a few websites that you respect and refer to a lot, use them.

My short list of credible well-referenced health blogs are:

Yes, I did just lump paleo and plant-based together! That’s because the information I’m looking for is not partisan, and it’s backed by scientific references.

Dr Nadolsky veggies

When it comes to accurate and credible health information, I’m most interested in what is right, not who is right.

what is right

When it comes to accurate and credible health information, I'm most interested in what is right, not who is right. #accurate #credible #whatisrightnotwhoisright Click To Tweet

The people listed here all get the science! They may just look at it slightly differently. Since these are blogs, they’re already partly biased (and we all have some level of bias, to be completely honest).

So, if you already know the blog’s angle, then keep that in mind. See what they say, and who they’re referencing.

PRO TIP: The most credible health blogs will reference many studies in each article. This means they’re not referencing other blogs, and they’re looking at a lot of studies, not just one or two.

The most credible health blogs will reference many studies in each article. They don't reference other blogs, and don't make a statement based on one or two studies. #health #science #blog Click To Tweet

I can go all into why, with all the studies published, we haven’t yet come up with overwhelming evidence that one particular eating style is best for everyone; but, that’s not the point of this post. It’s to give you ways to efficiently research health topics. I always recommend being open to different viewpoints on a topic, so long as they have research behind them, and it’s not just personal opinion, sensational headlines, or “salon gossip.”

HINT: These guys all agree on the overwhelming evidence that fewer processed foods, better nutrition, and a healthy lifestyle are key to health.

Credible institutional blogs and websites

Some of my favourite easy-to-read credible health websites make great references for your health topics.

Health topics:

Foods & Nutrients:


These places are waaaay better than using “Dr. Google.” Trust me.

Plus, they’re already written in consumer language, so they’ve done a lot of the heavy scientific translations (into English) for you.

Of course, there is always the option of heading straight to the source of information. This, my friends, is where all those blog posts and news headlines originate… The one and only PubMed.


If you have the time and patience, PubMed is THE source for health science. Searching, filtering, reviewing, and ultimately translating the “scienc-ese” into English takes time and practice.

Researching a health topic in PubMed will take longer than searching a trusted website (that’s why it’s last on the list).

Searching PubMed is a skill because each study is ultra-specific. Plus, once you find studies, you need to understand if/how they apply to your health topic, and how much weight to give the conclusions. Then you need to piece the ultra-specific references together into a cohesive post. This is one of my superpowers; and, doing it right takes time.

PRO TIP: When doing a search in PubMed, filter your results by “Review.” This will ensure that the only studies that show up are reviews of several studies. They’re the ones that take an overview of the health topics. Review studies are the best types of studies to reference exactly because they’re overviews. You can see in this amazing infographic that systematic reviews are the strongest type of study. Here’s another infographic that says the same thing.

Want an insider view of how I review and critique studies? Here you go (grab a nice tea because it’s a long one):

Credible online health references. #health #research #science Click To Tweet

What about Google & Wikipedia?

In April 2017, Google announced its intention to show if posts have been fact-checked. Search results are supposed to start showing a little “fact checked” label under them.

I haven’t seen any yet, have you?

I still see many SEO-optimized sensationally headlined garbage health information out there. Stick with quality. Your credibility is based on the credibility of your references.

Your credibility is based on the credibility of your references. #health #credible #research Click To Tweet

I’m cautiously optimistic, but until I start seeing it regularly, I recommend other credible sites instead.

Wikipedia is also trying to ensure the credibility of health information on their website is improving. They’ve been working with the Cochrane Library since 2014 to

“…help ensure that medical information included in Wikipedia is of the highest quality and as accurate as possible.”

BTW, the Cochrane Library is one of the credible sites I highly recommend and mentioned above.

Now, you’ve decided how many (part 1, above) and what type of references you want (part 2, above) for your health topic. Let’s dive into my efficient process.


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 how many references you want, and know the websites to search, 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 tonne of search results and take a tonne of time.  That’s because the more results you get, the more posts you have to sift through to find the best one for you.

It’s more efficient to be specific like “Is milk a good source of calcium?” So, choose your specific health topic and search for those keywords.

When you start specific, you can always broaden your search terms if you need to.

PRO TIP: You can be even more efficient if you batched your research by looking up a few topics in one sitting.

Open two blank documents

I use Google drive, but Word, or any electronic word processor is totally fine. Using an electronic means where you can cut/paste links is highly recommended, as opposed to writing them down on a piece of paper.

The title of your first doc should be the health topic you’re researching.

The second doc is a placeholder for references that catch your interest, but won’t work for your specific health topic. Things that are off-topic, but you’d like to dive into in more detail in the future. I like to call this my “interesting references” document.

Stick to your one health topic and allocated time

At the top of your health topic doc type how many references you want for your post. Allow up to 30-40% more before you stop researching. So, if you want 5 for your final document, then aim to find 6 or 7 references now. You’ll need a few extra just in case one turns out to be not exactly what you’re looking for.

Decide on the amount of time you are going to spend, and 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, or just bookmark the URLs based on this post. Feel free to include your favourite sites.

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Start searching

Open your first site, and do your first health topic search. If you get no hits, change the wording slightly 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 it looks useful, copy the URL into your health topic document. If it looks interesting, but isn’t useful right now, then copy the URL into your “interesting references” document.

Hit the “back” button and move onto the next item in your search result.


When you have gotten the best from that website for that health topic, move on to the next health topic (if you have another one).

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 write, 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, or move them to your “interesting references” document.

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.

Bonus for when you don’t have time to reference

Go straight to your “interesting references” document and pull out a few that inspire you. Your research for another post is already started (if not finished).

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 researching 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!

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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.

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  1. Ali

    Thanks for sharing this – so helpful! I love that you provided exactly the process you use to write a blog post. I’ll be referring back to this one for sure!

  2. There is so much misinformation out there! Thank you for detailing the process so everyone can figure out where to go to find legit facts. I will be sharing this!

    • I’m so glad this post is helpful for your audience Dr. Melissa! I totally agree with you that there is so much misinformation, and that’s why I created this. Thanks very much!

  3. Super helpful Leesa — thank you! I’ve been struggling with writing blog posts because I get into analysis paralysis and have a hard time researching in an organized fashion.

    Quick question – whats the average amount of time you spend researching based on the different types of posts you mentioned? I know it probably varies but some ballparks would be helpful. I’m trying to figure out a good starting place for setting my timer 🙂

    • Kassie, I hear you about “analysis paralysis!” Sometimes I end up down a “black hole” of finding & reading studies. LOL

      Great question about how much time I spend researching! Here are my NON-one-size-fits-all approximate ballparks (in an ideal world):

      – Short tips or recipes with “fun facts” – About 10-30 minutes, or until I find a few cool things to share.
      – Opinion pieces (if I agree) – Probably just the time to read through the info that’s out there already – 30+ minutes.
      – Opinion pieces (if I disagree) – At least 30 minutes to find a few good studies; then 30 minutes to read through each one.
      – Answering a simple question – About 30 minutes (or until I find a couple of great references).
      – Update on the newest study – If I don’t need to dig into anything other than that one study, I just spend time reading that study (and possibly a few of the studies it references, or ones where it has been referenced), which would take at least an hour.
      – Educational post on a health topic – About 30-60 minutes to find info, and then a couple hours to read through the research.
      – Comprehensive one-stop-shop for that health topic (a.k.a. “epic” post or ebook) – At least an hour to find studies, and then several hours reading though them.

  4. Paula

    Thank you Leesa, this information is a lifesaver. However, I wonder if by researching other people’s opinions on a subject, instead of diving straight into the research and analyzing the results, we may be perpetuating misconceptions. What are your thoughts on that?

    • Hey Paula! Yes, I agree, here’s why. First of all, when we’re looking for research to validate our opinion, we will find it. 🙂 Even if it’s a random, old, small, crappy, non-human study, there will be some study somewhere that can be interpreted that way. Secondly, if we want to start with the most objective overview of a topic (which is what I do), then go straight to credible sources that help us do that. Those that look at multiple clinical studies will help understand the big picture overview of the health topic. Remember, each clinical study looks at dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of people’s experiences. This is especially important, IMO for our blog posts, products, & programs because if we want to help the most people, we should know what has already been shown (via research) to help the most people. I love this infographic that shows the hierarchy of research, from people’s experiences (anecdotes & opinions) all the way to large reviews of multiple clinical studies. All are valuable, but they are not equally valuable (some are way stronger than others).

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