Every writer will, at some point in their career, have to carry out research. It's not the most enjoyable part of the job, but it is something we all have to do. I know that some people prefer to write what they know - I know that to some extent, I do too. However, there will be one story, one piece of information that you don't already know and for that you'll have to do research.
So, where do you start? How accurate does your information need to be? How much research can be done through Google searches and Wikipedia articles and how much do you need to actually talk to someone who knows what they're talking about? The answer to that is not an easy one. It really does depend on the type of book you're writing. If it's a piece on crime procedure, then you really do need a bit more than something you read on Wikipedia. Sometimes, you really do need to talk to a person in that line of work.
Now, when I first started writing, I didn't bother with too much research. I wrote what I knew about already and expanded on that. My first book, The Friendship Triangle needed very little outside knowledge. It was pretty much 99.9% pure imagination. My second book, Blackout, that needed a bit of research and I was able to get the majority of that through my own medical connections. When I started my third book and the Dying Thoughts series, well, I didn't need to know much for the first one, but I knew I would need it by book two.
And so, to the internet I went. Google was my friend, Wikipedia told me all I needed to know. However, I wanted to know a bit more, I wanted to know some of the things that Wikipedia didn't say. I was lucky enough to know someone who worked for the police and so I pumped them for information. The good part about it was that it didn't need to be 100% accurate. It wasn't a thesis on police work and I was allowed some artistic license, but it did need to have a grain of truth in it. By the time I was writing my fifth book, well that one *is* about the inner workings of a crime lab and so I needed to be sure I knew what I was talking about. I needed to do actual, proper and valid research. So, I did.
I brought a couple of books on forensics. One aptly named, "Forensics for Dummies"(found here on Amazon) and I read as much as I could understand and made copious notes. I still have those books because, after all, I *am* a mystery writer. I think I managed it well enough, time will tell of course. However, there is such a thing as "too much research."
I don't mean that you can ever do too much research, I mean that you can include too much research. I'm talking about when you're reading a book and the author has dumped a load of information in there that just wasn't needed. Maybe they felt it was relevant, or maybe they're just trying to show how much they know about the subject. It's a fine line and once again, an issue of balance. You want to tell your reader what they need to know to understand what is going on, but you don't want to tell them SO much that they feel like they just attended a university lecture on the subject. The problem is, if it's an area that you, the writer, are unfamiliar with, it's hard to tell how much is too much.
I have the same problem. I'm writing one of the Dying Thoughts books and Tara catches a case, or the big plot line involves a big case and I don't know how much information to include. Sometimes, I don't include enough and my editor comes along with the big red pen of death and I have a bunch of editing to do. Sometimes I include too much and the same thing happens. The way I look at it, you have to think of it this way. Your reader will generally be reading something they have an interest in. Be that crime, romance, hospital drama, supernatural stuff, I could go on and one. They already have an interest because otherwise they probably wouldn't be reading your book. Unless they're new to the genre and liked the reviews/front cover/blurb in which case, disegard what I'm about to say.
If they already have an interest, then they probably know something about the subject. Maybe not enough to know when you've made something up on the spot, but enough to know when you get something so wrong it might as well have a giant arrows pointing to it. You need to include enough information that this reader who already knows something, isn't going to wonder why you're schooling them on things they already know, or don't need to know. It really is as simple as that.
So, I know what you're thinking, you're thinking, if it's that easy why do people get it wrong all the time? It sounds easy, but it really isn't. This is why. You're not writing generally for those who have an interest because it excludes those readers who have picked up your book as their entrance into the genre and those people will get confused when you just use acronyms. Or if you don't include the process that happens. I'm concentrating on the crime and mystery genre because that's where I mostly write. I remember a conversation in Dying Thoughts, either book one or two, where Tara and Mike talk about what an M.E is (it's a medical examiner for those that don't know) and while I know that the majority of people reading my books - mostly teenagers who like crime novels - will know what that means, there's always the one who doesn't. So, while it may seem like a pointless conversation, it's not.
So, although there can never be too much research done by the writer, the research that makes it into the book needs to be balanced by what they HAVE to know for it to make sense and what is just too much gobbledygook. I know it's something that I struggle with, and I know the same can be said for other writers.
I personally, don't find research as fun as other writers might. I do it because I have to, which as the years have gone by and I've branched out, has increased. I'm close to finishing the two books I've got going right now and before I can start the next two, I have a TON of research to do and it's not the kind I can just Google, I need proper first person experiences. Something I am not too thrilled about. But, it will make the story that much more realist and hard hitting and that's the end game that I'm focussing on right now.
So, to wrap up. Research, sometimes it sucks, but it's gotta be done. Sometimes it's too much, sometimes too little. You gotta find balance between the two or you'll end up with confused readers. Mostly though, you have to know enough to think that people aren't going to question your facts. If they are, then you need to do more. Obviously, this doesn't apply that much to people who create their own universes and play in those. Those writers get to make it all up as they go along. Wish I was talented enough to do that, but alas, Google and Wikipedia are calling my name.