Avoiding the Research Rabbit Hole
Most beginning students start poking around in the research literature when they start writing their own monographs and they really have no idea what they are doing. You can get sucked so far down the research rabbit hole that your productivity plummets, if you don’t learn how to narrow a search. * You can do this even pretty easily even if you DO know how to narrow a search. 🙂 *
The best way to do this is to use specific search terms and to limit yourself to the most recent research. I focus on not using much research that is older than five years and actively avoid using anything older than ten.
I recommend SciCurve to beginners. It teaches some common research terms while you are poking around, but the visuals also show connections that will give you some direction in your research. I am not going to fib the aesthetics appeal to me, as well. Below is what shows up if you ask for a report on kava.
To the left is what it looks like when you ask it to show you a map. Maybe its because I am a visual learner, but I really like this. Also if you have your Lazy Scholar add-in, every time you click on one of the bubbles, it will look for the full text of the article on the web.
Now-omics is not as pretty but it is specific to the life sciences and it lets you generate a news feed built with only recent research. I like it for beginners because they can plug in a very broad search term like a particular plant and then use the topics down the side to filter the larger search.
TRIP has a really handy free search function that allows you to frame your search using the PICO mnemonic I mentioned last week. The following search returned 98 results defined by type, such as ongoing clinical trials, primary research or guidelines.
Spharro is probably my favorite for keeping up with the latest research, though. You can make “channels” about every plant if you want. The platform really allows you to narrow down what you see based on information about authors, journals and MeSH terms you may have seen on SciCurve or TRIP.
This is the point when people ask why I just don’t stick with Pub Med? There are so many reasons I don’t like Pub Med-most of them having to do with its limitations. Those just getting into research aren’t likely to know common medical subject headings (MeSH) or research terms that will produce good search results. Pub Med also doesn’t give you the ability to search for a single type of literature or ongoing clinical trials, the way TRIP does or only search through the most up-to-date literature the way Nowomics does. By that I don’t mean the date of publication so much as I mean that often times the versions of the papers offered on PubMed are not the final version of the publication.
In my last few posts on research, one thing that should have become clear is that it is really hard to critically assess a study, if you don’t have the whole thing. Using abstracts limits your understanding of the study design and you don’t get to see the concluding discussion. The sites above are going to send you to a lot of papers where everything but the abstract is hidden by a paywall. Don’t give up though because there are ways around that, sometimes.
The first thing I like to suggest is installing the Chrome add-on Lazy Scholar. It is useful for looking for full text versions of a paper and it will suggest alternative titles that might be related to your research. If you hit Cite, it sends the citation to your clipboard for pasting into a document. My favorite thing about it is the nifty little option that lets me block non-scholarly sites on the Internet for one hour. If Lazy Scholar has not worked its magic and located a copy, the next thing to try is an old-fashioned Google Scholar search using the title of the article followed by pdf.
If you can’t find it that way, try to determine if you can get some access to online databases through your local library. Depending on the size of your library, availability may be limited. If that is the case, move on to looking to see what your state library offers. Many of you might not know this is a thing, but your state library will send out a card number to anyone who lives in the state which grants access to their online resources. What is available varies by state, but here are some examples.
Finally, check around some of the places where researchers are able to post their own research for sharing.
I think this will wrap up what I have to say about research for right now unless readers have questions. I am very much involved in my own research projects right now as I am updating my class outlines for the MIdwest Herb Fest and Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference with the most recent information I can find.