Presearch comes before research! Exploring your topic and getting some background information at the start of a research project can help you identify useful information (i.e. a theme or subtopic to focus on, possible questions to be answered, timelines, etc.) and save you time. This is also a good way to refine your search - to take a broad topic (education, for example) and narrow it to something that you can cover in a meaningful way in your paper (do programs like Teach for America really work?).
(See the boxes below for tips on finding other, more specialized, reference and background information sources.)