If you know, say, that the Tibetan monks’ ceremonial drumsticks were bamboo, yellow, and curved like carpetbeaters, you convey a lot more than if you say they were weird and fantastical. If one monk wore bright red-and-orange striped socks under his robe and another a watch with an expandable band, you say more than if you write that they’re not free of western influence. Details bring the reader into the room with you. Details let the reader stand at your elbow and smell, taste, see, and hear the scene. It’s hard to fake them later.
That is why I take all the notes I can afford to. I note how I feel and the time of the day and the color of the sky and exactly where I am in the city or the room. I try to record every sense – smell, taste, sound, touch, and sight. I write down what people are wearing, what they eat, and what they drive. I write whatever surprises or amuses me, whatever catches my eye even if I don’t understand why. I put down the thoughts that I am afraid will make me or someone else look like a fool. I write down the details that contradict my idea of what the story was about before I began. I write down the difference between what people do and what they say. I notice what lies outside the frame of the official “event,” and what I’m not supposed to notice. I especially write down what people do: it is the most interesting thing because it cannot be lied about.
Source: Reporter’s Toolkit