For her 28th birthday, which was also the first time we were celebrating her birthday together in our new relationship, I decided to create a research paper about my partner in collaboration with her friends. I intended the paper to cover all aspects of her life and serve as the biggest surprise possible to a person who was a scientific researcher by profession. In this article, I intend to share ideas on how you too can hack the internet to do the same.
If you’re interested in seeing my finished product or a template to help you do the same, make sure you go to the last section of this article. There you will find resources to create your own research paper that will show your partner how much you’ve learned about them in your time together.
To start, I made a plan for the topics I wish to cover in the paper. This list could vary based on your specific situation, but I chose:
Timeline: Details of her life journey from growing up all the way through adulthood and her career, prepared in collaboration with all her friends.
Observations: A collection of figures and diagrams that captured her achievements and day-to-day behaviors.
Discussions: A place where her friends could present their scientific observations as well as make their birthday wishes.
Conclusion: A short summary of the findings and observations from the paper along with a prediction for future trajectory.
All of it was written in academic language that resonated with her.
I reviewed the plan with some of her closest friends and decided to form a community of co-authors who would help provide the details of her life from various stages. After this, I wrote down the sectional headings that I wanted to include in the paper and copied them into a Google Doc. I reviewed the sections a few times with her friends before finalizing them.
In my execution plan, collaborators were to provide inputs for sections 2 and 3 — Observations and Discussions. Each collaborator would create one figure that described her, along with a small write-up about how they experienced her.
I reached out to her old friends on Instagram and Facebook for all the details and dirt from her past. Surprisingly enough, not only were her friends helpful in willing to share details, but they went even further to introduce me to her other friends from whom I could acquire more ‘scientific content’.
I collaborated with her close friends on a Google Doc and then ported the document over to LaTeX. LaTeX is a program used for the professional writing of books and academic journals. I also used a free LaTeX editor called Overleaf to get started quickly and easily.
My steps to execute were as follows:
Step 1: Draft a Google Doc with clear section headings and placeholder content
a. Write the first few sections to give collaborators a feel for the paper
b. Insert expectations from collaborators in each of the sections
c. Provide sample content and ideas for inspiration
Step 2: Share the Google Doc with her friends and give them a deadline of 2 weeks (not too little, not too much) to return with the content they created.
Step 3: Compile the friends’ content together in sections 1, 2 and 3 also, add your own information. Ensure that ‘scientific’ language is maintained throughout (Tips in the ‘Overcoming Primary Challenges’ section below).
Step 5: Complete the paper on Google docs by writing the conclusion statement and your favorite grammar and spell check software (e.g. Grammarly).
Step 6: Port the content over to Overleaf, leveraging existing templates of academic journals.
Step 7: Export the document as a PDF from Overleaf and execute the final surprise and delivery.
For the grand reveal, her closest friends and I gathered at one of their homes. We printed out all 12 pages of the paper and stuck them to a wall, decorating the space around it to create an equally aesthetic and heartwarming surprise. When she walked into the room, she was absolutely mind-blown to see that we all had contributed so much to this gift. To make it even more personal, we each took turns in reading the paper aloud with piano music playing in the background. This approach worked out wonderfully for us — if that sounds like something your significant other would enjoy, make sure to use the tips below to create your very own surprise.
So how can you get started doing the same? Here are a few tips, tricks and ideas that I learned and can share from my experience.
Google My Maps for Location-based Figures
Google My Maps allows you to overlay labels on a Google Map. This gives you a great opportunity to highlight details about your partner that are location-based. A few of these can include:
Countries they have visited
Their favorite spots in the city
Locations of their closest friends
The cities they have lived
The street they grew up in
QR Codes for adding that X-factor
Who said everything has to be plain sight in the paper? You can add a QR code to your project which, upon scanning, can redirect them to any of the following:
A video compilation of birthday wishes from the authors
A cute compilation of pictures made on iMovie
A link to a digital/virtual gift (like gift card or an NFT)
A deep fake of them saying something absurd
A Zoom link to awaiting friends and family
A Canva slideshow that reveals the authors of the paper
Canva for Memes and Diagrams
Canva is a simple and free tool for quickly pulling memes and diagrams together– the background removal tool in Canva is very useful for this purpose.. It allows you to quickly pick any meme-worthy photo from your phone gallery, attach a background, and add a witty line of text to complete the meme. Likewise, if you’re a bit more nerdy like me, you can get creative in making charts and diagrams that capture their common behaviors. Some of the ideas you can create are
A chart of their interests in life vs their actual priorities
A graph of their frequently used piece of technology against their competence in using them
A chart of your relationship roadmap
An affinity diagram of their likes and dislikes
Excel for Stats and Charts
This is obvious, but I thought it might be worth mentioning, Microsoft Excel has a suite of charts and graphs that you can use if you prefer to showcase something that is more statistical. Some of the ideas you can pursue are:
A pie chart of what they’re doing when their Zoom camera is turned off.
A line chart of the growth of your relationship vs that of others.
A scatter plot of their actual ETA when they say they are “5 minutes away”.
There’s obviously more room for creativity than described above. If you need more ideas, feel free to try out any of the following:
Sketches or drawings they would’ve made growing up
Pictures from graduation and high-school reunions
Google scholar statistics if they happen to work in academia
Social media behaviors (Tweet storms, old Facebook memories, etc.)
In the end, you should capture the top 3–4 characteristics that make them feel special and one of a kind, since that is what they would appreciate the most.
Overcoming the Two Primary Challenges
The two primary challenges you’ll face in your journey of preparing this document are:
Writing in academic language, and
Porting content from Google Docs to LaTeX (via Overleaf),
but there are easy solutions to both of them.
First, writing in academic language may not come easily to you, but remember that we’re not aiming for perfection. Your partner will be more than happy that you even tried. Here are three simple tips to keep in mind:
Refer to your partner as “the subject”. References to “him” or “her” can be replaced by “their”.
Simple words often have more sophisticated alternatives that you can use. For example, “likes and dislikes” can be “preferences and loathing”. I found WordHippo really valuable in this.
Write in 3rd person. Imagine if you were a journalist at a newspaper covering your partner’s life. How would you write?
E.g. “She was born and raised in…” will be “the subject was birthed and developed in…”
Second, porting content over from Google Docs to Overleaf is definitely not an insurmountable challenge. I can speak for that as someone who has actually done it. It might take a day or so for you to understand the LaTeX formatting language, but after that, it’s smooth sailing. My best advice would be to pick up a template (like the one linked below) and start working on top of it so as to minimize your learning curve.
One important thing to keep in mind is that your first draft need not be perfect. When you finish the first draft of what you wish to create, I’d advise having a LaTeX expert clean up your paper to fix the typical issues with white spaces, positioning, and size of images. You can expect this to cost around $10-$20. Alternatively, you can also hire someone to convert your paper from Google Docs to Overleaf which might run you about $30-$50. Fiverr and Upwork are great places to find talent and I’ve linked below the person who helped me.
Templates and Resources
Overleaf and Canva templates of our paper to help you get a head start.
Free PDF version of the paper I wrote for inspiration.
The person I worked with on Fiverr for the final touches on the paper.
Tutorial videos to get you started with Overleaf
Google Form to submit and view other creative ideas and provide feedback
It’s Your Turn
I hope this article plants a seed in you for wanting to do this for your loved one. It’s 2022! They deserve more than just chocolate, perfume, and flowers. They deserve a written testament that you know everything about them, and that you’re willing to go great nerdy distances to prove it.