Research is one of the most important things a writer can do as part of its writing process. The reason for it is obvious for non-fiction writers, but fiction writers need to do their share as well. They just don’t have to do it in as much detail as the non-fiction writers. All a fiction writer must do is enough research to be able to provide a good base for the fiction. Believe me, your readers will notice. I once read a story where a character was scuba diving on a shipwreck that was supposed to be three hundred years old. The character freaked out when she encountered the corpse of the captain, floating in his cabin. That was a dramatic moment in the story, ruined for me by the fact that corpses don’t last that long underwater.
A little research on the part of the author would have saved that scene for me. The author could have had her character freak out at a shadow which she mistook for the corpse of the captain. A minor change that produces the same effect. It’s important to do the research. It lets you do the dramatic scenes in such a way that it’s consistent with what your readers may know about the real world. When I wrote Accidental Colony, I researched space travel, as well as planetary systems. Yes, I did the math. It made my story believable.
Fantasy novels also need research. Tolkien did a lot of research into myths and legends to create Middle Earth. That’s why it seemed so real. It was all due to research so he knew what it should be like. Then he created it. Mystery writers know how poisons work before they poison their victims. They know which poisons work quickly and which take time. They even know which ones are odorless and tasteless so they can kill their victims without someone noticing. That’s key in a mystery.
All types of writing needs at least a little research. Don’t scrimp on it. Someone will catch you if you do. I don’t mean that you need to do as much research as Tolkien did for his novels, but you should know how things work in your fictional world. If that world is based on this one, you should know how it works. How much research you do is up to you. Consider how realistic your setting is and go from there.
You might not think research is important to fiction, but if you get something wrong, you could lose a reader. If a reader pops out of the story and can’t get past the thing that popped them out of the world you created, they may not come back to your story. That’s a danger to avoid.
Do your homework. A piece built on solid research will stand up over time. That’s why people still read Tolkien. He did the math. He did his homework. Then he built his Middle Earth.