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Help me learn to research


rose
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I'm growing more and more frustrated with google and the crummy results that I get when I try researching serious questions. I think that I honestly just don't know how to research properly. Usually when I have a question I try google first and then take that along some rabbit trails. Recently I discovered google scholar which has helped me some.

 

Occasionally I have registered for some specialist forums to ask specific questions. For example, I register on a rock lovers forum and posted a picture of a rock that I found fascinating and waited for the "experts" to get back to me. I had already tried a geology field guide and I didn't know how else to find information. I've also identified plants this way.

 

I get so frustrated with the thousands upon thousands of sites that just parrot each other or tell you the same boring information that you already know (examples: avoid fat to deal with gall bladder pain or alcohol is dangerous during pregnancy, etc).

 

Here are a few example of questions that I haven't been able to solve

1. How much fiber does a traditional Sub Saharan African diet include per day?

2. When the day light changes with the seasons is the rate of change constant through out the year or does it increase and decrease cyclically depending on how close you are to the solstice? In other words, is the day light change faster or slower at the equinox than at the solstices or is it the same?

3. How does first trimester prenatal alcohol exposure differ from second or third trimester exposure?

4. Does going to the work of decreasing the phytates in whole grain food actually have *any* measurable beneficial outcomes in human health or is it just speculation that it will? I want evidence not just more people parroting Sarah Fallon.

 

If you can find the answer any of these questions how did you accomplish it? What other tools besides what I mentioned above can I access?

 

As an aside, do my questions reveal my aspie side or is this stuff normal?

Edited by Rose M
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Do you have a medical school library, or at least a university library near by? For at least a couple of those questions, I would be looking at journals. You can do a lot with Google Scholar, but the problem is unless you have subscriptions to the journals, you aren't going to be able to access most of the articles. Most people can't afford subscriptions to the big journals for personal use, so a library is the only way to access the. Some you aren't even able to access without a university account, so to be honest, I would go befriend your local university librarians/staff and get help from them. 

 

For what you're asking you're going to want a good search engine and then multiple sources. When I was in research I would spend DAYS in the library before I got online access to the journals from home with an account. Then I spent days online pulling and printing papers for lit sections of future papers! I don't know anywhere else you're going to be able to access that level of info. Google is crap for decent data on most in-depth type of questions for the exact reasons you stated. It pulls up all of the popular wing-nut articles that typically have zero science whatsoever attached. I assume it's to do with the way the search engines run and whatever crap people post and spread through social media is going to be at the top of the list. To me, Google is for fun and fluff. University libraries/search engines are where the real stuff is found. 

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I think I would go from reading Wikipedia to the footnotes of the most relevant article and get some names of authors/articles/books.

 

I'd track those names down on google books, amazon, or university websites. (Many authors work for universities and have personal web pages.) Once I had some degree of confidence, I'd google various associations of authors names and key words (the more technical the better). I'd try to figure 'which academic discipline studies what I want to know' and 'who's who in that discipline'.

 

I'd also try to get access to actual published books or peer-reviewed journals through my university library or public library (inter library loan).

 

But that's a ton of work. I think I might be more likely to live with curiosity instead.

Edited by bolt.
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Oh and to answer your last question- more people should ask what you're asking. If people weren't so quick to believe everything a Google search revealed the world would be a better place. 

 

ETA: This is an old blog, but it's got a lot of good links you might try. 

http://www.onlineuniversities.com/blog/2012/07/100-time-saving-search-engines-serious-scholars-revised/

Edited by texasmom33
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With any research, I think rabbit trails are the way to go.  For example, for your first question about fiber in the Sub Saharan African diet, I would begin by making a mental list of questions.  The first thing I must know is what do they eat, and how much of it.  Then, I would research how much fiber is in each of those foods, and then calculate it.  I would also want to know if their diet changes during different seasons, and why.  I would then need to look up those foods and calculate the fiber intake for the partial sections of the year, and then average the total across 365 days.  But, then I would have other questions, like is their water intake different from an American diet, and does water intake change the body's perception of fiber.  What about the blend of the foods they eat compared to other countries.  I would spend the better part of a week looking up these different aspects of my question, constantly refining my answer with the extra bits I turn up.  At the end, I might decide I know nothing more than I did, but, maybe not.  Usually, I discover more and more I don't know, and it turns into a really fun journey.

 

For the question regarding prenatal alcohol exposure, I would begin by looking for a list of possible outcomes, and then look up when each of those things develop in the baby.  Like, maybe one thing on the list is a deformity of some sort.  Well, when does that develop in the pregnancy, and at what point do changes occur.  The eyes develop at one point, but are shut, and then open, at those junctures of development, something could go wrong.  Having learned about the symptoms, and about basic development, I would be prepared to ask a question or two a layer deeper.  I'd keep peeling back the layers until I was satisfied.  

 

You probably already do the above, but, if not, think about breaking your questions into lots of pieces, and then putting it back together.

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