Before The Outline
The first round of research is background material for your story. You may be looking for settings, hidden alleys, a great beach. While an online search, will give you generic information, there’s nothing like going to the place of your story.
You will discover details that no amount of online searching will offer.
As you meet people and tell them why you are visiting, you’ll be surprised at how people help you with your background research.
Find The Surprises
By Nealmarques – Iphone Camera, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=25738450
When I went to Ravenna to meet with history scholars at the Ravenna branch of Universitá di Bologna I thought I was on a history search. Between appointments and visiting suggested historical sites, I played the tourist from time to time and wandered. As I was coming home one evening I passed a botanical garden, right in the middle of the city. It was closed.
The aim of first research is to discover background and details that will enrich the story for your readers. You are in discovery mode. Find details to store away. For beginning writers, gather as much as possible but know that 80% of your research will not show up in your story. The reverse of this that when you want a detail, you will have material to enliven your characters and enrich scenes.
Know When Enough is Enough
Original research at the beginning gives you a grand overview. As you write, you will discover that with all the research you’ve done, in the middle of a scene you need one more pertinent detail.
A good rule of thumb for knowing when to stop research activities and plan the story is when you can talk to a friend about your background information comfortably without notes. Then it’s time to stop and move on to story.