- I start off by googling a basic question about the topic (“What is cryonics?”) and then control+clicking every link on page 1 of the results to open all of them in their own tab. Then I open a new window and google another question (“How does cryonics work?”) and I do the same thing. I usually do this for about five questions (“Cryonics scam,” “History of cryonics,” “Cryonics statistics,” etc.), leaving me with about 50 articles to read (or sometimes YouTube videos to watch—interviews, debates, animated lessons, etc.).
- I start reading and usually will quickly discover sub-areas I need to research specifically, so I’ll do new google searches + 10-tab-opening for those (“how does vitrification work,” “history of alcor,” “cryogenics vs cryonics,” “frozen embryos,” “organ vitrification,” etc.). I’ll also often create a whole set of tabs for the reference articles at the bottom of the main Wikipedia pages on the subject. I don’t worry too much about the credibility of any individual source because I read so many sources that as a whole, they leave me pretty clear on where there is industry consensus and where there’s not. I’m also getting a pretty good radar for what is simply some writer’s take on a topic vs. what’s a true expert’s opinion, for what are trustworthy studies from credible sources vs. what is slanted or politically motivated or hearsay.
- As I make my way through all of this (and I do mean “all” since my perfectionism kicks in and once an article is open that part of my brain decides that it must be read), I paste quotes, terms, concepts, and my own thoughts into a big Text Edit document. Each item I paste in there goes along with a link to the article the item or thought came from and a sentence in bold summing it up.
- Once I get through all of that, I have a pretty solid understanding of the topic, but there are always still questions or confusing parts or hazy areas. So then I specifically google those questions until the haze is gone.
- Sometimes that’s enough. Other times I want to go deeper, in which case I’ll download a book or two into the iBooks app on my computer and read through them and continue pasting quotes and facts into the Text Edit doc. Sometimes I’ll also google a phrase about the topic along with “pdf,” which usually brings up a bunch of horrifically boring academic papers that usually go into more granular depth. If I know an expert in the topic well enough to call them, I’ll usually do that to bounce what I’ve learned off them and have them poke holes in it (for the cryonics post, I called a surgeon friend of mine so he could tell me why the whole thing was hogwash, which he then did).
That completes my phase 1 of a researchy post, which provides me with a thorough education and also a whole set of my own thoughts and opinions on the topic, which inevitably emerge as I learn. A classic procrastinator/perfectionist pitfall is to spend too long on this phase and learn enough to write a full book when you’re only writing a blog post. That said, I think a bit of “over-learning” is good because I can’t confidently write a good Level 5 post on a topic unless I have a Level 7 understanding of the topic myself.
If there are three major phases of a researchy post—research/learn, organize/plan, write/draw—phase 1 is definitely the funnest and easiest.
Then comes the nightmare phase—take the now-usually-over-100-page Text Edit document and figure out what that should look like as a blog post. As I write this answer, behind this browser window are 20 text edit documents. Only one of them contains research. The other 19 are various iterations of outlines and sub-outlines. But that’s the subject of another question.
Anyway, whether you’re a writer or not, it’s good to keep in mind that a laptop and the internet is all you need to become a mini-expert on basically any topic.