Roam Research: The Best Note-Taking Tool
Roam Research: The Best Note-Taking Tool. We always need a flexible tool for taking notes. That is because there is a new note-taking app on the block which has a small but dedicated base of users who will tell you it is the best note-taking app that has ever been made. The tool is called Roam Research, and after getting a not-insignificant amount of tweets from you guys telling me to check it out. Well, that is what I did. I’ve been using, Roam for about the past two months on a pretty much daily basis. Putting it through its paces, so in this article, I’m gonna be breaking down what Roam is, how it differs from other note-taking apps, and giving you some pros and cons, so you can decide whether it’s worth testing out for yourself.
Creating Pages with Roam Research
So when you start using Roam, the first thing you’re gonna notice is that when you’re creating pages here, everything is essentially a gigantic bullet list. No, if you’re used to tools like WorkFlowy or Dynalist, you’re gonna be right at home with how you actually take notes. Everything’s a bullet list. You can kinda drill down as much as you want. No, what I’ve found is this kinda bullet list structure here encourages me to write a lot more when I’m in research mode for an article than I would if I was using Evernote.
Experience With Evernote VS Roam
When I research with Evernote, I eventually end up with just amount of, I don’t know, research vomit on my screen, and it gets very difficult to find certain things after I’ve written them. But with Roam, everything can be organized through a couple different functions. First, if I don’t want to see everything, say I don’t want to see everything in this. Work from home tools section here ’cause I’m workin’ on a different part of this outline. I can just collapse it, which will be great. Let’s just collapse that. I’ve already made my Planning and prioritization article.
Features of Roam Research
Let’s say that I’m in the research process for my time and motivation article, which actually just came out a couple of days ago. I can just kinda minimize everything else I want and work here, which is great. But if I really want to focus on this specific part of my outline, I can actually just click that bullet, and that kinda becomes the top part of my page. So it’s still part of this page, and I have some breadcrumbs here that show me sort of where I am within my document, but this is all I wanna see, and this is all that I’m gonna see, which is pretty nice.
Benefits of Roam Research
Roam is a tool for bottom-up associative thought. It is not a tool for hierarchical top-down organizations, unlike almost every other note-taking app that you’re going to use. So the way that you would do this is you simply put brackets around a term, and if that term is a page, it’s going to create a link to that page. If it is not a page, it’s going to actually create that page. So let me go ahead and find something within this document that I wanna link to. Now, before we go any further into Roam’s feature set, I wanna talk a little bit about the point of this linking system.
Neuropsychologist Donald Hebb
When you think about the way that your brain organizes information, it’s very much a tangled web of ideas, which is itself made up of a tangled web of neurons. No, whenever you have a realization or you get an idea or even when you get a rush of emotion about a certain experience, different neural networks start to connect to each other. As the neuropsychologist Donald Hebb famously put it, “neurons that fire together wire together”. So the more connections a group of neurons has, the more frequently you access it, and the stronger the knowledge it stores becomes in your mind. Now Roam seems to be built to emulate this way in which the brain works. Now it’s also very similar to an analog system with the exact same purpose called a Zettelkasten, which was created by the German social theorist Niklas Luhmann. Luhmann was incredibly prolific, writing over 70 books and over 400 academic papers during his career.
Now he managed all of his knowledge using a wooden file box that contained thousands of paper note cards, each of which represented a specific idea and linked to any other card which mentioned that idea. Now, while the analog Zettelkasten system used this very complex system of numbers to link the cards together, Roam makes things infinitely easier by linking the pages together when you create those bracket links, or even when you don’t. Now, this is actually one of the key features of Roam that makes it really, really nice to use. Any time you mention a page so lemme just type the word books in here, because I have a page called Books, any time you mention the name of a page within your text, even if you’re not thinking about it, you create what’s called an unlinked reference.
The capacity of Roam Research
If I go over here to Books, I can go down here and see four linked references. But if I open up this little menu here, I’m gonna get nine unlinked references. Now, these are just any instances within my Roam database where I have typed books, but I haven’t put the brackets there to actually link them to my Books page. Now, sometimes I don’t really wanna make a link because I’m just saying the word books, but if I do want to make a link, I can come in here, I can look at my unlinked references, and I can just click the link for any one of them. So now I’ve actually made that link.
So if I go back to my How To Work FromHome Effectively series, then books are now linked to the Books page, where I’m actually tracking all the books that I’m reading. So this is at least one of the features of Roam that has the fans of this app calling it a complete game changer because it kinda allows you to go back in, interact with the notes that you take, and the concepts that you have learned, and taken notes about multiple times. Instead of just taking notes and then having them be siloed in some far-flung sub-folder of your hierarchical system, you are constantly linking the new notes that you’re taking back to older notes.
When you combine multiple disparate ideas, well, that is when creativity happens. I mean, think about a piano. Let’s take a guitar and hit the strings with hammers. Boom, you’ve got something different. Let’s take shoes and put wheels on them. When you take disparate ideas that haven’t been connected before, and you give yourself tools for connecting them, then you have more insights, and you become more creative. So that seems to be kind of the whole point of the underlying kind of bottom-up linked structure of how everything works here. Now, before I move on from linking. I think people in the comments would roast me if I don’t mention this next point, which is that pages are not the only thing that you can link together.
Additional Features Of Roam Research
Anything that is a block, or I guess a bullet, can be linked to any other bullet. So let me give you an example of that. I have one called Working FromHome: How to Stay Focused. Okay, let’s say I want to link to this from some other part of my outline down here. Maybe I’m working on another section on Work/Life Balance. Cool, so lemme just say Iwanna link to that other thing.
All I need to do instead of typing brackets, which link to pages, I will type parentheses and then boom! Now, before you click away from this bullet, you’re going to see just a key reference to that specific block, and the moment you click away from it, boom, it is now a block reference, and if I click it, it is going to zoom me right to it. Now, this is a very, very long bullet list, so I’m gonna scroll to the top.
But, as you can see, this is that exact subsection of this page, and I’ve zoomed to it. More importantly, now thatI’ve created a block link, I now have this little number six here, and if I click that, I can see in the sidebar here any time I have mentioned this specific block within this page. Now I guess that actually brings us to the sidebar. The sidebar is one of my favorite things in Roam. So basically, I can bring up any other note within Roam in a sidebar next to the, note that I’m working on. So let’s just say I’mover here on my Books note, and I don’t want to click into one of these books, I just wanna look at it in a sidebar. If I shift-click it, it is just gonna bring it up, and then I can interact with it in the exact same way that I would over here.
Cons of Using Roam Research
Of course, there are some cons to using Roam. There are gonna be a couple here that may be deal-breakers for certain people, the biggest of which is that present moment, there is no dedicated mobile app for Roam Research. There’s no Android app, there’s no iPhone app. Now, that being said, there is a workaround, which is that you can bring up Roam Research in Safari or a mobile browser, and it does work pretty well.
Now I think they kinda know that the mobile experience isn’t super great at the moment because, by default, when you first load up Roam in a mobile browser, you’re gonna get the little Quick Capture box and anything you submit to it gets synced to your Roam database later on, and it gets put under a Quick Capture tag. So if I actually go and show you my Quick Capture thing, these are all things that I’ve just typed out as I’ve been out and about, going about my business, using my phone, not having access to my computer. So it does work, it’s just not the most elegant system in the world, and I think its gonna change in the future.
Con number two, there is also currently no API. So if you say, an Evernote user, and you’re used to lots of integrations. With, say, document scanning apps like Scanbot that lets you easily scan receipts, and other kinds of stuff into Evernote, you’re not gonna get that here, and you’re not gonna get any other kind of integration right now. There’s also not optical character recognition or OCR, so you’re not gonna be able to scan your handwritten notes and digitize their text.
Now, also this is not Notion, which means you don’t get some of the really cool features from Notion, namely the amazing tables and database things. I do believe you can create tables within Roam, but they’re very, very simple, and they absolutely do not hold a candle to Notion, where I can do multiple views, I can create templates for my databases, I can do all kinds of really, really cool stuff. So, personally, Notion is stickin’ around for many different purposes, not least of which project management. But Roam is amazing for research.
Additional Uses for Roam
Now, one of my “additional” main uses for Roam has been to take detailed notes from books, because I’ve been in the habit of getting up every morning and spending a little bit of time reading. So when I read non-fiction, I actually mark up the book with a pen. I know that’s gonna be sacrilege to some of you. But for me, marking up the “book” with a pen allows me to highlight things and kinda makes the book more valuable overall.
It also forces me to really engage with the material and pay attention to it and know if I am daydreaming. Anyway, once I’m done with a chapter, I will go over to Roam, I’ll go back through my book, and I will write detailed notes, which I can actually show you right here. Here are some of my notes from the book Hyperfocus. Now writing these super-detailed notes has, number one, helped me to actually learn better from the books that I’m reading and retain the information more effectively. So overall, this is a great habit to be in, and it’s definitely one that I’m going to keep up going forward into the future.
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