I have done a tremendous amount of research for papers not only because I know the teachers are looking for specific information, but because I want my paper to be BELIEVABLE despite the BS I've added in to reach my page requirement. The quality of the fact-based information holds up the believability of the BS. Just like a non-fiction research paper, a fictional work—no matter how small—requires the facts from research to make the story more than simply plausible…it makes it completely believable!
Unlike in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, there's no limit to the Golden Tickets of factual information in today's world of internet and competition, meaning you don't have to deal with the shady information brokers that so many detective stories feature. The world is rich in information and knowledge ripe for the taking.
Buying the Candy Bars:
The internet is a good starting place for information. In today's drive to entice people this direction or that direction, the internet has become a massive mash-up of every imaginable kind of information. A recent meme that has shown up states, jokingly, that "The Internet can't say anything that isn't true." Unfortunately, just like the "French model" on the commercial, some information just isn't true. Google, Bing, Yahoo, DogPile—any search engine—will give you an impossibly long list of pages full of information that has some kind of tie to what knowledge you're searching for. It's like going into a candy store and seeing a huge wall of candy bars, some from Willy Wonka's factory and others not. Some you'll like, some you won't, and some will make you downright sick! Go ahead and save everything you think might help you out (and some that you know won't have the Golden Ticket if they look good to you, personally—that's for other times you just want story ideas). Why not? It's all free!
Looking for the Ticket:
To figure out if you got a Ticket or not, you have to determine both the quality and relevance of the information. Determining quality of a source of information is like deciding if the bar of chocolate is from Willy Wonka (a trustworthy factory) or a rival candy maker. To put this in real-life terms: you obviously don't want to accept information about Jewish culture from a Neo-Nazi website or information about hotels from a self-claimed homebody. The sources are obviously not unbiased and expert. Cutting these can really pare down your big pile of notes to a more manageable stack. Going back through them again for specific relevance to your topic (really looking inside the wrapper for the Ticket itself) pares it down even more. Be brutal. If it doesn't have what you want, toss it!
Is that Really a Golden Ticket???
You have a stack of Golden Tickets before you! Some might be counterfeits while some might have keys to even MORE Tickets, so verify the facts. Look for the highest quality sources. They tend to be the experts, the ones that have a passion for the topic you're seeking information for. Settle in for doing the cliché version of research: emails, phone calls, interviews, and in-person visits. Ask questions using your previous research for references. Stay open for extra information that you wouldn't have otherwise expected (these are the bonus Tickets!). Calling a retired police officer about internal politics of the office might lead to the internal workings of a cop's mind while running a high-speed vehicle chase. Contacting a librarian about what rules a library has beyond the "Shh" rule helps flesh out your quiet bookworm character who loves hanging out in the library. During the entire process, keep the contact information! After interviews, ask people if they would be willing to be an expert contact for you on both this project and your future ones. Just because you've gathered all the information you need now doesn't mean you won't need more later.
Trip to the Factory!
All this is simply to get you to your goal: Willy Wonka's factory! Or a fully believable story. That works too. Your characters will be more real, your settings more accurate, and your stories more consistent. In the end, isn't a riveting story that could be true better than a story that leaves the reader feeling they just read a fiction story? (Look at Twilight…there are people that seek out the setting of the story expecting to find the characters from the book!)
Enjoy your trip and don't get turned into a blueberry!