As any writer knows, research is an important part of making your story believable. For the purposes of NaNoWriMo, it can go a long way toward boosting word count, too. But how do you make sure you get the information you need without drowning in information? And how do you escape the trap of plagiarism?
Let's address the subject of researching efficiently first. With NaNo, you are necessarily restricted in time. Thirty days. That's it. And leaving a *** is not an option, if you have any hope of reaching 50k by month's end. But there is a way to get what you need without being sucked into a black hole of information and web surfing. The internet is a tremendous resource, if used wisely. Plug just about any subject into Google and watch the pages accumulate beyond your wildest expectations. No one needs to, much less has time to read 1,235,879 pages about any subject. And if you have only fifteen minutes alloted for research, even 12 pages is a stretch. So, what do you do?
First of all, make sure you narrow the scope of your research as far as possible. Don't research the Roman Empire. Research "coins of the Roman Empire". Or "women's clothing in the Roman Empire". While these searches will still generate an astonishing number of pages, the scope is narrow enough that most of the information you may need can be gleaned from the first three to five results.
Once you've narrowed the scope of your research, make sure you use the search engine to get the most specific results. Use Advanced Search options. Boolean searches and phrases framed in quotes can make that needle in the haystack shine bright against the straw. For instance, if you type Roman Empire meals into Google, you will get results for the phrase as a whole, but also for each particular word. Now, just imagine the number of pages featuring the word Roman or meal. It does not bode well for efficiency. However, bracket that same group of words in quotes: "Roman Empire meals", and this tells Google to search for the whole phrase only. Much more accurate results. And fewer to sort through for the information you need.
But what if you are using your trusty public library, and not the internet? The same rule applies. If the card catalog is on computer, this simplifies your task. If not, however, your reference librarian can be your most valuable resource for saving time and frustration. After you have a list of potential source books, narrow them down to only two or three. Scan these for the information you need. More than likely, your books will be non-fiction reference, which means they have an index of some sort. Use it. Indexes are a researcher's friend. If the information you want is not in the index, move on to the next book.
After you have selected your sources, be they internet or paper, you now have to gather and collate the facts. Remember doing research papers in school? Remember note cards? If not, take the time to refresh your memory. Then, read over the pertinent portions of your sources and jot, from memory, what you recall. This solves the problem of plagarism. By reading the source information first, then writing it down from memory, you are unlikely to quote word for word. And when you incorporate the facts into your writing, reword them once again. This is an almost foolproof method to protect from stealing another's words. I say almost, because there is the odd person out there with a letter perfect memory of what they read. If you are one of them, please make an effort to put the information you gather into your own words on both the note cards and the story page.
Finally, have fun with it. NaNowrimo is about quantity. It's about community and about fun. So, if you hit a snag and need a bit of fact, make it up, put it in italics and research it later. You may find your imagination is much more interesting that the truth, or that you knew the stuff all along.
For more on NaNo research, I recommend Chris Baty's book, 'No Plot? No Problem'. As creator of NaNo and five-time champion, if anyone knows how to get facts in a pinch, he does.