First, you need to get acquainted with your topic. Think of it like going on a date: you're trying to get to know the other person (your topic) without scaring them off because you're trying to talk about marriage, houses, and grandkids (i.e. your "real" research) on the first date. And, of course, once you've gotten to know them better, you're able to buy them gifts and guess what they would like, because you've taken the time to establish those little basic details.
Honestly? This is the time resources that are otherwise verboten are useful. You know... Wikipedia or even just whatever comes up when you Google for your topic. These are not the sources you're going to cite in the end -- you just need them to give you ideas in a simple and straightforward way.
If you want an option like Wikipedia but better, check out Credo Reference (linked below). It provides short synopsis articles from reputable encyclopedias, and even has a mind map tool to help you visualize how topics relate to each other.
First, you develop and narrow down your topic -- the general idea of what you're going to be researching. From that, you need to develop your research question, i.e. what is the question you are attempting to answer by doing your research? This, in turn, will form the basis for your paper's thesis (your claim/argument/answer) which you'll explicitly state in your introduction.
The Three Rs
Is your source
Recent? Reliable? Relevant?
Is this source up-to-date? Is it about my topic, and does it go into enough depth? Does it come from an authoritative source? Is the information accurate (and are there citations given to back it up)? And why was this information written in the first place?