Yes. Even when writing fiction, you need to do research.
Does this come as a surprise? As the writer, you are the boss of everything, right? That’s true, but only to an extent. At some point, the reader, who has followed along loyalty, is going to get snagged on a gap in logic, whether it’s factual, in the way a sci-fi machine operates, or in a character’s thread in an argument. You, as the writer, need to be on top of this.
Now, I’m not going to go into MLA style or APA style here. The point is that you know the facts, you write them down for future reference, and that you write down where you got them or who you quoted so that you know in case you’re asked at some point. That’s it. Grab a spiral notebook and get going!
Research doesn’t just mean hitting the books, either. My favorite kinds of research are experience and interviews. This means that I can talk to my grandmother about the mean ol’ days, and that counts, as long as I’m writing about a similar character. If I want to write about a child on the swing set, it wouldn’t hurt to hop onto a swing myself to bring back the feeling of soaring through the air (along with some new-found adulthood dizziness).
You can also search out photos from your past, magazines, novelty stores, and the Internet for inspiration and facts such as what people wore in a particular time period.
Writing sci-fi might even inspire you to do an experiment of your own as you consider a time machine unlike any other that’s ever been built (including the DeLorean).
When done right, research should be a lot of fun.
Even things you already do in your own life have involved research, whether or not you realize it. Do you compare shoes before you buy them? What about computers? Do you learn what each component is and educate yourself before you buy?
Also, consider the activities in which you’re involved. What, as an expert, do you know about those activities? What items are necessary in order to take part in them, and how does it feel, physically and mentally, to be involved in those activities? Some examples include weightlifting, doing yoga, going to a club, and walking a dog. What would your character be involved in, and how would he or she feel differently and similarly to you?
In conclusion, research might feel like an extra step, but it adds authenticity to your writing while allowing you to take on new experiences. These not only enrich your writing but your experience as a person.