Identifying properties of a magic item could be a great source for an adventure. Taking it back to Appendix N, how did the adventurers of Appendix N discover the properties of magic items they found? There weren't a lot of magic items to begin with in Appendix N but usually the method was trial-and-error, consultation with an elder wizard or sage, or communication with a supernatural power. Here are some I recall offhand:
* Conan was given the sword with the Phoenix by the spirit of a long-dead sage. He only discovered its properties by accident when he stabbed a demon with that sword (after having used it "normally" against mundane opponents up until that point).
* Fafhrd & the Gray Mouser got their information in consultation with Ningauble
* Elric discovered the properties of his sword over time, and some properties weren't discovered until the very end. I seem to recall Arioch also helping some in this process.
* Lovecraft's wizards typically had to consult with long-dead tomes or possibly even the dead themself (i.e., through their "essential salts" or other methods)
The D&D abstract of "spell research" would theoretically include the methods above. Instead of a die roll you could potentially set up some interesting side treks or even full-fledged adventurers. Each class could contribute. For example:
Thief: Through connections on the street and in the guild, knows of an old tome wherein the nature, pedigree, history, and owner of every magic sword has been recorded. It's said the tome itself is magical and a certain ritual must be performed each new moon in order for the book to be updated. A craggy wizard now owns the tome, which he keeps in his hut at the edge of the old swamp. It could be stolen...
Cleric: Of course the gods know all secrets. If the magic item were brought to a holy place and blessed with appropriate (costly) donations to the deity, he may impart some knowledge. Continued fealty would be required, of course, and the deity's intervention may even change the magic item somewhat (shift its alignment a tad or something).
Warrior: An old veteran of the last frontier wars swears he saw that magic sword in use during the Battle of the Ford. It was wielded by a black-robed man with no hair and a large silver ring. The old veteran recalls seeing some of the properties of the sword in action. But you'd have to ask the veteran himself, and he's old and forgetful now, and lives twenty miles to the east on what used to be the frontier...
Wizard: Patrons offer a lot of possibilities here. The patron could divulge the information directly. Alternately, the patron could summon forth the soul/mind/corpse of the wizard that originally created the magic item, and give that to the current possessor for interrogation. Or the patron could transport the wizard to a place where the item's properties would be most useful, allowing an easy road down the trial-and-error path.
Those are just some ideas. Hopefully they serve to instill a little spark that could turn into a fun adventure.