The Complete Roam Research Starter Guide

Ramses Oudt
Ramses Oudt
The Complete Roam Research Starter Guide

Welcome to Roam Research, and to Think Stack! My name is Ramses and I'll be your guide to the wonderful world of Roam Research ("Roam" for short).

I don't see myself as just another knowledge worker, I proudly call myself a Roaman. Roam has changed my life in many ways, all because it has made me a more precise and clearer thinker. Because of Roam, I've been able to learn new skills in a shorter time and teach more people than ever before.

Roaman • noun
Roam Research power user who uses the app at the center of most of their knowledge work.

Before I got to this point, I spent 18 months sinking my teeth into this thinking tool. Roam looks simple on the surface and is extremely powerful under the hood. Much like the famed Excel, Roam aims to be an environment for thinking. Excel's fuel are numbers, Roam's fuel are words.  

It takes time to master this tool, but once you do you'll be able to become much more effective and efficient. How? Because working with Roam will make you think about your workflows and introduce you to automating them. This is important, because knowledge work is about thinking, not fiddling with tools.

In this guide I will take you through all of Roam's core features. See them as tools in your toolbox; individually a tool will do little, but once you learn to use them in combination you can become an artist. Aim to be a knowledge artist.

Before we dive into the overview of Roam's functionality, let's first dig a bit deeper into what makes Roam special. As I said before; Roam looks simple on the surface. But looks can be deceptive.

What makes Roam special?

If you went ahead and already logged into Roam, you might have noticed that you landed on a page with today's date and a single dot—or bullet. Hm... looks a lot like the beginning of an outline, doesn't it?

That's right: Roam is an outliner. And that's a crucial fact.

This bullet is called a block in Roamspeak, and it's the fundamental unit of information in Roam. Everything in Roam is about the block, and throughout this guide we'll see what the implications and opportunities are of this concept.

But why is this block thing important? Isn't it enough to have pages in folders? After all, note-taking apps and word processors have had them for decades, so pages must be the fundamental unit of knowledge work. Right, right?

Well... no.

While pages are great for linear writing, the way our brains work is far from linear. When thinking of one thing, we can easily name a handful related ideas. And while our brains are great at associating ideas, it's notoriously bad at juggling more than a handful at the same time.

In other words: we have fast working memory, but its size is mall.

To expand our working memory we tend to use all types of note-taking devices, pen and paper included. But even though note-taking apps have made it much easier to take notes, organize them, and retrieve them, they're still overwhelmingly linear pieces of writing. And again, our brains just don't work that way.

How great would it be if there were a tool that worked like our brains, and had all the possibilities of modern note-taking apps. That tool is Roam Research, and it singlehandedly sparked live into a field called tools for thought.

The philosophy of Roam

Roam Research is not your average note-taking app. If you’ve already logged in and played around with it, you’ve probably already noticed there are no documents or folders—you start on a page with today’s date.

Common note-taking tools like Evernote and Notion are hierarchical, meaning that your notes live within folders. Each note is always in exactly one folder. Some apps add a dimension called nesting, which happens when you indent paragraphs or notes underneath others. That way, a note can live in another note, which in turn can live in another note, ad infinitum.

Roam is different in that notes have no fixed location. The atomic unit of knowledge in Roam isn’t a page; it’s a block. That’s right, every paragraph (block) in Roam floats around freely and can connect to any other block in the same database. Compare blocks to cities connected by roads.

Blocks can relate to each other, but each is its own entity—no block lives insides another nor in a folder. In Roam, all information is fluid and free.

In the coming lessons we’ll dive deep into what this freedom of information enables us to do. For now it’s enough to understand that every bullet is a block and that it can connect to any other block or collection of blocks (also called pages) in the same database.

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