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.
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.
I returned the next day because I knew that Nikolaos, Argolicus' lifelong tutor, had a passion and deep knowledge of plants. Aside from keeping Argolicus on a rigorous schedule of Greek language practice and basic fighting skills, his knowledge of plants was part of his character.
When I returned to the gardens Erboristeria dell'Orto Botanico I took photographs of the plants as a store of knowledge of plants native to Italy.
At the time, I had no idea how these would come to play in the stories, but I knew I could use them as a reference. When I started writing The Peach Widow I knew that Nikolaos and his knowledge would play a key role. On my original trip to the botanical garden, I was concentrating on edible plants but in this story it was his knowledge of poisonous plants that provides a plot twist.
Nikolaos' expertise comes to play in The Vellum Scribe, another Argolicus mystery and a current work in progress, but for a different reason. Argolicus' uncle Wiliarit creates books. He arrives for a visit to enlist Nikolaos expertise in finding plants to use in his illustrated encyclopedia.
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.
Zara Altair, Author
The puzzle of politics, the mystery of murder in ancient Italy. After Rome, before the Middle Ages, Italy belonged to the Ostrogoths.