Research can be a vital part of writing. Whether you're writing a historical novel or a science fiction dystopia, you'll need to do research to help make your writing the best it can be. But a big problem can be getting so sucked into doing research that you never actually get any writing done. So where's the line between researching enough and researching too much?
Well, as always, there's no perfect answer for everyone, but here's what helps me.
1. Start broadly.
If you only know vaguely what you'll need, start broadly. Writing about space? Start with a general book, a textbook for instance, and poke around. Take notes, see what sticks in your mind. You may find something that suddenly adds a whole new interesting elements to add in. Things you never even knew about! Take lots of notes, read the references and see if any of those sound great.
2. Utilize your library.
If you have access to a library, use it! Ask for help with your research. Librarians are made of magic and awesome and most would love to help you find the perfect book to answer all your weird little writerly questions.
3. Don't buy all the books.
This is my biggest problem. I decide to research something and the next thing I know, I've got 15 new books sitting on the floor and no idea where to even start. Begin with books you can borrow, check them out and see what you need.
An outline will help you see if you're going to have specific questions. Train fight? You're going to need to read about some trains, better know that now and get the research a-rolling. Prepare in advance and you'll save yourself a lot of effort in the future. Take care of your future self by preparing now.
5. Set a research time limit.
Give yourself a set amount of time to do your research: a week, a month, a day, whatever amounts feels right for you. Then stick to it. I know it'll be super tempting to research 'just one more thing' but stick to your goal or you might get stuck in the research forever zone and never write.
6. Make notes as you write.
Start writing and then keep notes about questions that pop up while you're writing. This can be in the document itself (I like to leave notes to myself with xxx to make them easy to find later), in a seperate notebook or word document, or on a whiteboard somewhere nearby. Just don't let the questions totally derail you. They will pop up and that's okay. The first draft doesn't have to be perfect or have all the history exactly right.
And that's what helps me stay on track to actually write and not get stuck in a research loop.