A phone call to friends and family with knowledge of certain details of my story acts as part of research as does a quick search in a book or online but the fantasy comes first. The layout, storyboard, or plot diagram is laid out and then I fill it in with the information and details. I have absorbed a compendium of story materials through the years. My whole life is based around telling, researching, and writing the story. Whatever the story may be... my whole modicum of thought relates in some way to the fantastic. I can walk down the street and imagine the street suddenly jolting upwards, gravel and all, and then having to dodge out of the way of the debris and then come back to the real world and try to develop a story from the imagined catastrophe.
I try to come up with more exciting ways to communicate stories all the time. I am forever trying different ways to make something exciting, dramatic, and meaningful. Thus, the fantasy comes first. It drives my curiosity to research and sometimes I don't research on purpose and wing it. Sometimes the realm of pragmatism doesn't mesh with a good fantasy.... sometimes the truth is far more interesting. The fantasy and the research when balanced to great effect can truly complement a story thus making it worthwhile.
Some writers get to into their research and it detracts from the story, others should have done more research both can take the reader out of the narrative and that is never good. Strike a balance.
I must say the bulk of my research is skill-related. Reading similar books to see how the author handles certain scenes counts as research as well. This I do and analyze. Most of the time I am able to pick up things rather quickly with my powers of absorption but the need to improve never wanes. I always know I can be better. I hope this blog made sense otherwise I might have to do more research on blogging.