What I mean by speculative research is not research about faster-than-light travel or how dragons can fly. I mean the kind of research you do when you’re not doing research.
In large part this can be defined as “learning about random stuff”. When I do speculative research, I’m not trying to find out one specific fact like the distance from Boston to New York City.
As an example, I recently read a book about T.E. Lawrence. (Or listened to, actually.)
The Lawrence book was full of stories, not just about Lawrence himself, but about other people who played roles small or large in the WW1-era Mideast. For example, Sarah Aaronsohn, who I would have probably never heard about otherwise. Will I ever use this in a story? Who knows.
Really, it’s just filling the well. But with facts, rather than other people’s fiction.
Here are a few of my favorite sources for speculative research:
Audible – I’m terrible about reading nonfiction. At the end of the day, I’d rather curl up with a good novel. But jogging, pulling weeds, and putting away laundry just don’t combine well with reading. Audiobooks are perfect. I made a rule to only listen to nonfiction audiobooks, and I’ve finished around 8 in the past year. Also, library audiobooks – a bit tricky to finish in the two-week checkout period, but cheaper (as in free).
Podcasts – for when an audiobook is just too long. Or expensive. My current favorites are the NPR TED Radio Hour podcast and Stuff You Missed in History Class. Though I don’t listen as much since I started “reading” audiobooks. Books are just more satisfying in the long run.
Coursera – I’ve finished classes on archaeology, the ancient Greeks, and sustainability (I actually wrote a short story for one of the homework assignments) so far. All for free. Since doing the homework is totally optional, in a lot of ways these are just like video podcasts.