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Doing Research

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"I'm going to the crime scene to see what I can find out. You guys research the Polgara demon."
Buffy, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, "Goodbye Iowa" (and most other episodes)

A new monster has arrived in town and it's already beaten off our heroes once. Is it time to get dangerous?

No. It's time to hit the books.

Our characters head to the Magical Library to consult the Great Big Book of Everything and the Tomes of Eldritch Lore. They search the Omniscient Database and scan samples with the Everything Sensor, possibly with the help of a Hard-Work Montage. Only when all avenues have been exhausted will they summarise their findings and formulate a new plan (which the audience may or may not be privy to).

Doing Research is the favourite pastime of Mr. Exposition, The Smart Guy, the Badass Bookworm and The Team Normal. It is most common on Monster of the Week shows, although Mystery of the Week has its fair share.

Where Science Hero revels in this, Action Hero revels in Training from Hell and Time to Unlock More True Potential to achieve their goal.

See also Awesomeness by Analysis.

Not to be confused with Shown Their Work, which is about writers doing research.


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  • In one of his stand-up routines, Louis C.K. tells of how his daughter was bitten on the leg by a wild pony in Italy, after which she immediately hit the internet to read up on ponies. And, says Louis, "It turns out, they're assholes! They bite all the time!"

    Comic Books 
  • Robin: Tim spends a fair amount of time looking information up trying to track down the identity, most likely location or powers and allies of an opponent or other oddity he's encountered. On at least one occasion he and Steph worked together to figure out the identity and location of some kidnappers by working with an old computer in Oracle's clocktower while bouncing ideas off each other.
  • In the Argentine horror comic Martin Hel the protagonist, who is an Occult Detective, is frequently seen researching in old books, often in his own personal library.

    Fan Works 
  • Adjacency: In the first chapter, "Nothing Ventured...", Twilight's been researching a Magic Mirror for about four days non-stop:
    Twilight's smirk turned a little sheepish at that. "Oh come on, Applejack, I haven't been that bad about my research lately..." she paused, seeing a smirk appear on her friend's face. "...have I?"

    "Sugarcube, the only thang that's come out of your library in the last four days has been smoke and earth-shatterin' kabooms."
  • Dungeon Keeper Ami: As a Science Hero working in a new world, Ami does a lot, and then there's the warlocks which research enemy dungeons, and new spells.
  • The Petriculture Cycle: Petriculture: The whole story pretty much consists of this trope, because it's about Twilight investigating a strange story and a mystery.

    Films — Animation 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In the film Ghostbusters, After Dana Barrett reports strange paranormal events in her apartment to the Ghostbusters, they investigate. The name Gozer comes up in the investigation prompting Dr. Egon Spengler (a formal paranormal researcher turned Ghostbuster) to research info on the unusual design of the apartment building, as well as the information on who Gozer could refer to. He determines that Gozer was an ancient Hittite god and that the apartment was built by a Gozer worshiper (Ivo Shandor) with the intent of acting as a portal to bring Gozer back to the earthly world. He explains all this to the Ghostbusters in a scene towards the end of the film. He would also serve as the main researcher role in the sequel too.
  • Godzilla: King of the Monsters: As King Ghidorah begins leads the Titans towards a global apocalypse, Mark and Ilene are left to Do Research onboard the Argo on the way back to Castle Bravo. Mark analyzes the ORCA's alpha signal attempting to work out what frequency Emma created it with, whilst Ilene continues consulting myths about Ghidorah for answers and she ends up piecing together that Ghidorah is an alien.
  • Hellboy (2004): During Hellboy's fist fight with Sammael, Abe Sapien is researching Sammael and relaying information to Hellboy. He asks how to kill Sammael, and Abe replies that the book doesn't say how.
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring: After Bilbo leaves the Shire, Gandalf already has suspicions about the magical ring transmitted to Frodo. The Wizard is next seen doing historical research to learn more about the One Ring, notably the story of Isildur, to confirm those suspicions.

  • In The Dresden Files, Harry will sometimes start doing this at the start of dangerous cases or when he encounters some creature or magic he's not very familiar with. This usually involves consulting Bob the Skull in his lab, who usually knows a huge amount of information about most magical monsters. It's relatively rare for Bob to not provide a wealth of information, usually when it's either something to do with Heaven and Hell, or the necromancer Kemmler.
  • Giants Series: Inherit the Stars, the first book in the series, basically uses this trope as its plot. A group of scientists are given a body and told to figure out who he was, where he came from, and how he could have been found on the Moon - in a spacesuit - when his body is fifty thousand years old. The story of how they figure out the answers to these questions is an excellent example of the scientific method in action: research, study, experimentation, right guesses, wrong guesses, arguments, expected discoveries, unexpected discoveries, one or two intuitive leaps, and a heaping helping of pure luck.
  • In The Girl from the Miracles District, before she goes to Norway, Nikita has her half-brother Kosma do research on berserks and Norse gods. She also repeatedly sends Karma photos and data about the Red Shirts she killed so that the tech genius can figure out who hired them.
  • Once a book in Harry Potter, the trio will head to the huge Hogwarts library to find new lore. This is generally undertaken by Hermione. Expect Hogwarts: A History to be used.
  • There's a lot of this in It. After the Losers' Club gets together and they compare stories of having encountered the monster, Bill questions his dad about Derry's sewer system and goes to the library to read up on what kind of creature they might be dealing with. Mike brings his father's "Derry album" down to the Barrens so they can research the town's history (and after the events of 1958, he interviews several older Derry residents about what they saw during key tragic events). They excavate and build their underground clubhouse and turn it into a "smoke-hole," hoping they'll have a vision so they can personally see something that will help them defeat It. And so on.
  • In Simple Complications this is how Abigail contributes to both the ghost and coded documents plotlines.
  • Alice's entire purpose as the scholar for The Witch Watch involves doing research and so it's not surprising her first reaction to the situation is to hit the books.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Buffyverse:
    • Buffy the Vampire Slayer involves research nearly every episode, although generally Buffy is patrolling while the other Scoobies hit the books. Giles is even the school's librarian.
    • Angel had the same thing. Fred and Wes traded off or went together for research roles, sometimes with Cordelia joining in, though Gunn occasionally got in on it in season 5. Before Wesley joined the team in season 1, Cordelia did most of the research, often using the internet. Fred became part of the team in early season 3.
  • Doctor Who:
    • The episode "Tooth and Claw" invokes this trope in a more... time-sensitive manner than is customary. The Tenth Doctor and company have been cornered by a werewolf in Torchwood House. Upon realizing they've been trapped in the house's LIBRARY of all places, The Doctor utters a strong candidate for page quote:
      The Doctor: You want weapons? We're in a library. Books! Best weapons in the world. This room's the greatest arsenal we could have. [throws some books to Rose] Arm yourself.
    • The plot of "Silence in the Library" is resolved by an unusual variation in which the Doctor gets the villains to do some research. They do, and wisely decide to call it quits.
      The Doctor: This is the biggest library in the universe. Look me up.
  • Mostly averted in Game of Thrones. When Sam Tarly begs the masters of the Citadel (the biggest and most important library in the setting) to use their reputation and their knowledge to help humanity against the Army of the Dead, either by pushing the still unaware forces to join the battle or by browsing through their books for something useful, they react with apathy, arrogance and disbelief. Played however straight by Sam Tarly himself and other characters, who are often able to acquire vital pieces of information this way.
  • In Grimm, because Nick is new to the job, he frequently visits the trailer he inherited from his Aunt Marie to gain information about Wesen types, other magical phenomena and hunting techniques.
  • The title character of Merlin does this very often, usually with the help of his mentor Gaius.
  • Every episode of MythQuest. Alex and Cleo's father is lost somewhere inside a myth. Alex and Cleo take turns going into myths to look for him, but they never know what myth they'll be going into until they're in it. That, combined with the fact that changing the outcome of the myth would destroy the real world, means that one of them is constantly doing research about mythology and the specific myths they're in.
  • Anytime the Science Heroes of Star Trek encounter a new threat, they immediately hit the Starfleet database to look up any prior oddities that bear any resemblance to whatever they're now facing. Sometimes they find something useful, possibly in the form of a Continuity Nod, but more often than not they draw a blank and have to break out the Everything Sensor to Techno Babble their way out of trouble the hard way.
  • Many episodes of Supernatural involve one of them, usually Sam, trying to find out what they might be facing and/or how to kill it by this method. This is mostly done by him searching the web for odd occurrences first, then researching in the library. There's also that book their dad wrote. And the extensive library of Bobby Singer. Then, they eventually move into the abandoned bunker of an organization dedicated to cataloging supernatural knowledge, which means they have access to their archives. The following quote from Claire Novak in the episode "Angel Heart" probably says it best:
    Claire: So this is hunting? Homework?
  • This is one of Artemus Gordon's responsibilities on The Wild Wild West. He's the one who dives into the books — sometimes piles of them — in order to dig out and correlate any relevant bits of data. He's also usually the one who gets in touch with the "research department" and other sources of information back in Washington, D. C.

    Tabletop Games 

    Video Games 
  • The Secret World has several missions where the player either has to conduct research into whatever monster, spirit, or lesser god they are hunting, or are the ones collecting research for others. Investigation missions take it much further, with some requiring the player to actually go online and research real or fictional websites for things like SSN numbers for books or finding the serial numbers for in-game electronics and machinery.
  • In all games from the X-COM series, the only way to stop aliens from conquering Earth is to study them. This requires analysis of their equipment, biology, and later even interrogation (see page picture). All this take many, many working hours of the most brilliant minds on the planet. The same applies to X-COM's Spiritual Successors, such as the UFO After Blank series, UFO Extraterrestrials or Xenonauts. Massive Chalice has made no secret that Enemy Unknown was a great influence on the gameand as such it features a similar research mechanic.

  • Dominic Deegan and his allies weren't adverse to looking up new information on whatever threat they were facing before rushing off to confront it. A good chunk of the plan for the "Storm of Souls" arc only came about because Dominic researched the nature of what they were confronting and detailed a plan to counteract it. It wasn't perfect, though, as they were still instances of outdated information and simply wrong conclusions.
  • In the "So a Date at the Mall" arc of El Goonish Shive, the way Ellen, Nanase, Charlotte, and Diane react to the appearance of a mysterious cloaked figure is not to go out and search the surrounding area, but rather to read up, track every sighting, and look for a pattern. Ellen isn't very happy about having to hit the books, so, of course she's the one who comes up with the eventual breakthrough.

    Western Animation 
  • In Avatar: The Last Airbender, Sokka does this during "The Library" episode, where he happens upon a burnt piece of parchment titled, "The Darkest Day in Fire Nation History". Sokka does some digging and eventually learns that there was a solar eclipse which left the firebenders powerless... and that the next one is only three months away. Armed with this information, he begins to plan an invasion to coincide on the same day: the Day of "Black Sun".
  • Jackie Chan Adventures: One of Uncle's many catchphrases is "We must do reeesearch!" Of course, given that many of the threats the cast faces are ancient and tend to be documented in historic texts and legend, it's generally applicable to the situation.
  • Legend Quest: The protagonists frequently look up information about the legendary monsters they encounter, and how to defeat them. The Book of the Brotherhood provides most of the information.
  • Star Wars: The Clone Wars, "Storm over Ryloth": Mar Tuuk asks for all the files they have on Anakin Skywalker in order to research his opponent, which allows him to predict that Anakin will return despite the heavy losses to his fleet and the fact that Tuuk has him outgunned. Anakin's strategy upon return still manages to catch him by surprise.
  • In an episode of Teamo Supremo, a touristic guide becomes a supervillain and defeats the Teamo with her knowledge of local landmarks (not as dumb as it sounds — she knew perfectly all the territories where they fought). The Teamo only defeats her after an intensive study of the local history and geography.