Feels like most of my time at the moment is spent in 'research' of one form or another.
In PhD terms, this means reading. Lots. Eventually there will be a practical side but for the time being I'm wading through online journals, scrolling through PDFs, and making notes like there's no tomorrow. Hopefully enough notes that I can find things again later - something I never had to worry about when I was an undergraduate because I read papers and added paragraphs to the related essay at the same time. That style just isn't going to work on something as long as a PhD thesis, so I'm gradually learning to be a different kind of student.
Research for fiction is much easier - and much broader. If you're someone like me who likes nothing better than trying out new things and learning about a variety of obscure subjects, being a writer gives you a great excuse. Who knows when you'll want to write how it feels to make a parachute jump, or when you'll need to know the antidote for belladonna poisoning - and reading about things that have nothing to do with your current projects can give you more inspiration than you know what to do with. Once you start writing fiction, even being ill or injured becomes good 'research'.
Of course, there are plenty of times when you need to find out a specific fact - and now! I always find the 'Character & Plot Realism' board on the NaNoWriMo forums a really good read - it's fascinating to see what other people want to know to inform their writing. And I often wish there was a novelists' version of delicious so writers could share their favourite research sites.
A few of my perennial favourites, aside from Wikipedia, are listed (in no particular order) below. I wonder what these say about my writing?
- http://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/mgmh.html - a 1930s herbal reference, including medicinal uses and poisons.
- http://www.pfaf.org/leaflets/med_uses.php - essentially a modern version of the same, with up-to-date info on what plants actually work to relieve which symptoms.
- http://www.biblegateway.com - translations of the Bible into almost every language you could imagine, including various historical translations.
- http://www.entertheninja.com/ninja_fact/weapons.php - ninja weapons, need I say more?
- http://www.medievality.com - very good introduction to all things medieval, handy when you suddenly need to brush up on torture devices...
- http://www.marinewaypoints.com/learn/glossary/glossary.shtml - nautical terminology, traditional & modern.
- http://www.rspb.org.uk/wildlife/birdguide/families/index.asp - birds and more birds, including pictures, sound clips of their calls, and behavioural descriptions.
- http://www.thenewparentsguide.com/most-popular-baby-names.htm - all baby name guides are good, but this one is particularly handy for historical settings as it has popularity by year/decade.
- http://www.fashion-era.com - fashion & clothing through the ages.