structure, how the line of the bank runs, coves juts etc. Changes in water color(depth) or current if there is any. I look around on the ground and see if there are signs of other fishermen and what they have used, or left behind. I never walk right up to the edge, I approach slowly and pitch a few casts as sometimes a nice one is laying near the shoreline and you spook it on approach. I am very picky about being quiet fishing from shore. Footsteps and sounds carry more in the shallow waters in my opinion. Crappie spook easily too and often that is what I am after from shore.
I concur with Drop who I am pretty sure looks at what others left while collecting it. I almost always start with a light T rigged plastic finesse worm with it rigged weedless style. You can "feel" the bottom/structure and the bullet weight and hook in the worm body can usually be teased through some snags where you might lose your favorite crankbait.
I always use a trigged plastic first when going for bass. I would rather lose a worm and hook than a crank. Once I think I know where the snags are I than start a crank but usually one of the cheaper ones just to make sure. Once I am confident than the joke 3/4 oz red eyed shad comes out to play. For crappie I first just use a weight on line to figure out depth than put on the hook and bobber.
Like sundry I always clean up any trash I can and within reason some of my crappie spots are LOADED with trash
depends on how open an area looks. it's smart to start with a plastic as has been mentioned if you're worried about snagging up but honestly if a new area looks open I'm gonna throw a crank from the get go. I may lose a bait or two but I'm not wasting time when I could be covering the area the way I want
Bass fishing depending on the time of year I always start throwing parallel to the bank. In most cases there will be grass or something to attract them. I'm a power fisherman by nature so going slow at first isn't my thing.