How I Research

I frequently do science review articles, e.g., on burnout and MDMA.  A friend recently asked for a quick start guide to doing his own, which I am sharing now in the spirit of “done is better than perfect”. I use examples from two recent projects:

  • my report on the problems and benefits of distributed work teams (which may or may not be publicly released- do comment if you think it would be useful to you).
  • my friend’s report on different sleep interventions, specifically trying to figure out which of the things he thought ought to be tested already had been tested.



  1. Search peer reviewed articles.
    There’s a tendency to treat peer review as kind of a totem, and that’s incorrect- lots of bad work gets past peer review and lots of perfectly good work is done without it. For these particular examples, there’s so much crap running around on non-peer-reviewed internet that this was necessary to limit the scope, even though you’ll miss quality content like “that supplement that worked for me for a few months
  2. The google scholar chrome plugin. If you find the abstract of a peer-reviewed paper but need the full text, this  plugin will sometimes find it for you.
  3. Sci-Hub. This keeps getting taken down because it’s legally dubious, but if google scholar can’t find you the full text of a paper, sometimes this can.
  4. Libgen: Sci-Hub for books.
  5. If you can’t find a paper any other way, e-mail the author explaining why it’s useful to you and ask for a copy. People like hearing that their work is being used.


Things to Try

  1. Google scholar search “[thing I care about] + meta-analysis” or “[thing I care about] + review”
  2. Google scholar the obvious thing (“sleep”, “distributed team”).
  3. Ask regular google for exactly what you want. E.g., scholar searching for “sleep intervention meta-analysis” was getting me a bunch of papers on sleep as an intervention for other problems.  I regular-googled “list of sleep interventions with citations” and found a promising paper.
  4. Once I find a promising paper:
    1. see if it uses different terms of art than I have been using, and retry step one. E.g., for sleep research I started with “sleep” when I should have used “insomnia”, and for the business research I thought of “remote teams” and “distributed teams”  but also needed to check “virtual teams.”
    2. Look at papers the paper cited (especially if it is a review paper). Reading the paper will sometimes draw your attention to papers you wouldn’t notice from their titles alone.
    3. Look for forward citations  (click “cited by” on google scholar) (especially if it’s not a review paper). This is often better than backwards citations because it gets you more recent papers.
    4. Look up other papers by the author (either on their website or by clicking their name on google scholar) and check for interesting titles.
  5. Amazon or regular-google search for books on the topic, investigate their authors, who they cite, and their keywords. This is often what I’ll do if I’m not at all familiar with an area, to get myself situated.
  6. Graduate dissertations are also great for orienting yourself, because they have do to a topic review.