Let's be honest. Research is tedious and hard. Why on earth would anyone spend two hours searching Google to fact check such complexities as travel time between Dover and Canterbury on horseback or whether Elizabeth I would have had her own James Bond running about England when you can just employ some hand-wavery and explain it all away by calling it fiction (18 days with a good horse and grain feeding, and yes. His name was Sir Francis Walshingham).

Just like spouting incorrect "facts" bothers and annoys people in face-to-face conversation, it bothers and annoys your readers as well.

If you're going to write a story that hinges on the entire state of California losing power, then that's your right. But your intelligent readers will expect a better explanation than "because it's 110°+ in the shade." California's a large state with a hugely diverse climate, so geography alone would generally prevent such a heat wave to engulf the entire state under normal, non-science-fiction conditions. Yes, the whole state COULD lose power. The entire eastern seaboard was plunged into the dark ages a few years ago, after all.

But no one is ever going to tell you that what you've written could never happen if you have some research to back your prose.

But research is hard. How exactly do you expect me to find the air speed velocity of a European swallow?

Someone who isn't apt to doing any research of their own will likely tell you to "just Google it," regardless of your question. And Google can be very good, for simple questions. But there are some questions you may have that if you asked Google, you'll get so much unrelated and irrelevant information that you'll just be worse off than when you started. So, if you need to know how the public in 17th century England might have treated a blind man of non-noble lineage, you may want to stay away from Google. A place that would almost certainly know the answer to queries such as this would actually be LiveJournal, specifically Little_Details or AskAHistorian. Little_Details is great for most of the questions which Google will just information vomit all over. Everything from police procedure to old maps of Philadelphia. And if they don't know, they'll point you in the direction of someone who does.

AskAHistorian is better for, well, historical questions. If you need to know what sorts of cosmetics the ancient Romans wore, or how the Catholic practise of Confession started, then these are your people. They do know less-obscure, and more modern things as well, of course, but you'll get better use of them if it's not something that could be easily looked up on your own.

There are also loads of specific communities all over LiveJournal, so if you want to know the best way to get to the Oregon Zoo on public transit (DamnPortlanders) or the sorts of calls a technical support agent might want to fling themselves off of the roof over (TechSupport), you can find just about anything you need. You are required to create an account if you want to post or view certain entries, but it's free, and the learning curve is small.

But I only write (insert genre here). No one cares about hard fact there.

Everything, fan fiction to fantasy, satire to sci-fi, should have facts and research to back the prose. Like strong imagery, it can be the difference between showing and telling. It's one thing to say that your character has driven from Seattle to Yakima, but that two and a half hour drive will feel much different from a 20-minute drive. And that would be way less stressful than the 15 hour drive from San Francisco to Las Vegas, with each drive affecting your character in vastly different ways. Or if your character goes to a football game against Manchester, you may want to make sure that football is even in season that time of year. If your story takes place six years ago, who won that match? Manchester? London? Someone reading your story might have seen that particular match, whether on the television or at the stadium, and they'd remember it, which would in turn give your story a bigger impact on that person.

Whether you're writing about Gene Hunt or Geoffrey Chaucer, a single mother of three or 23d century space pirates, you really ought to know what you're talking about.

So, let's make this a challenge, shall we? No placements or prizes, just a personal goal, shared amongst fellow writers; the satisfaction of completing a task. The next time you write something, write about something you don't know. Make yourself have to look something up, and make your reader think you're an expert on the subject. It doesn't have to be a research paper on the French Revolution, but find something to look up, and do it. Maybe your character is an SOCO, or they travel a lot. Show your reader what that's like, rather than just telling them that this is what your character is, and this is what they do.