When I was earning my degree I fell in love with research. I totally loved rolling up my sleeves and diving into primary sources on microfiche and culling from old publications. The great thing was, as a student, it was all free and access was simple and quick. Now that I'm no longer affiliated with a university getting my hands on great sources is a bit challenging. But it isn't impossible and I still believe my writing is always better if I do the research.
I don't think it makes a difference whether you write your draft or do the research first. I do a little of both, Steven King does his entire draft first and still others do most of their research before they write a single word.
Research adds credibility to anything you write.You can lose your readers if you have even a small part of information that is incorrect. Historical novels obviously require research to be sure that their settings and characters are authentic. I believe fiction also needs to be authentic even when it's fantasy. The ability to "suspend disbelief" is grounded in the skill of a writer to present fantasy in a way that is believable.
By now everyone is an expert when it comes to the Google search. While this isn't all bad, writers need to be sure that what they use is a source that is reliable. Anyone can create an official website, that doesn't make the information it holds accurate. Here are a few sources that are worth checking out.
Write To Done has great list of links that have been invaluable to me.
Sheryl Clark on her blog Books and Writing has 10 research tips for fiction writers.
Attorney Leslie Anne Budewitz is a great source for everything legal and
Don't discount the simple interview of an expert. Most people are very willing to spend time with you if they know you are a writer. James Scott Bell has a great section on interviewing in his book, Revision and Self-Editing.
Fiction Writers Review has a "Flip-book" on research here.
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In closing I'm going to borrow a page from their website:
Is research an important aspect of your writing? What is your process?