[LFR] Letters from a Roaman - Letter L

Happy Tuesday, friends,

In honour of this being my fiftieth Letter, I thought I would break with my usual format and share 50 things about Roam Research.

It’s a mix of lesser-known and secret features, tips, tricks and simply things that I like, but I’ll start with what I consider the 5 fundamentals of Roam that, once mastered, give you a solid foundation to build the rest upon.

1. The Daily Notes Page (DNP)

Let’s start with the fundamentals that make Roam what it is. Used in conjunction with the other fundamentals, embracing the daily notes page is a great way to track your thinking over time.

2. Thinking in blocks

Roam has changed how I think. Using a block as a fundamental unit of knowledge which contains a single, complete (atomic) thought allows you to cleanly reference it and helps me to think and break down things more clearly

3. Outliner

Roam is a great outliner, structuring (and restructuring) your thoughts is easy.

4. Page references and tags

They are ultimately the same thing; they just display differently. Use tags to denote specific blocks to build meaningful structural layers.

5. Block references

The ease with which you can find, use and remix prior thoughts is what makes Roam so useful to me. My primary graph is a dense network of my thinking over time.

6. Deep links

The ability to reference and uniquely link to every single block or page is great for linking information across tools (especially with Hook). The native web app now has its own URL format, which takes it up to 11 (12 when we can set our own keyboard shortcut to copy it to the clipboard) for speedily hopping between apps.

7. Magic dates

Referencing date pages used to be tricky, now you can type date-related phrases in when you are creating page references and get suggested dates. It even works with relative phrases like 2 days ago.

8. Delta ∆

A lesser-known Roam primitive that you can find by right-clicking on a blocks bullet. It allows you to send blocks into the future to resurface at a later date. It needs some love, but I think it has a lot of potential. I wrote an article on all the things you can do with it. It’s an essential component of my [[NTNDS]] practice.

9. Advanced Block Search

Control-Shift-9 is the default shortcut to open the advanced block search, which gives you more control and context when searching for a block in your graph. You can also create new blocks in other pages from here and grab its block reference to insert right where you are.

10. End-to-End Encryption

Fully encrypted hosted graphs mean you can keep your most private thoughts private. The only downside: you can’t use every single feature of Roam and some plugins won’t work. Read my 3-part in-depth essays in my recent newsletters, starting in Letter XLV.

11. roam/templates

The ability to add roam/templates to a block and then have its child blocks become a simple template exemplifies how simple and effective using Roam primitives is to effect behaviour. It makes it very easy to apply a consistent structure to your blocks for later resurfacing.

12. roam/comments

I like the elegance of its simplicity in automating a pattern that can be done manually. My only comment; it needs some UI love for users who often struggle to remember how to trigger it at first.

13. roam button templates

Roam buttons which trigger a template are great for keeping your linked references high signal. Use them in your daily note templates to only trigger the insertion of a page reference section when you have something to add.

14. Automatic DNP template

Add this to a page, and click the resulting Activate Daily Template button. Now you’ll have a convenient button showing next to your daily note date when the page is empty. Clicking it will populate the note with your block-referenced template. 💥

15. Pop-overs

Another less well-known feature (which also needs some UI love) that is a handy building block in your block structures for teaching yourself using a question and answer format.

Type in this shortcode, and it’ll show the text you wrote in the first part before the bar character. Click on the text, and it’ll reveal the second part in a pop-over. It also works to use block references in those two parts - that’s where it can get interesting, plus it’s possible to infinitely nest these pop-overs.

16. Queries

When you’ve mastered the fundamentals, queries become a superpower for searching your graph for unexpected connections. As with many of Roam’s native features like this, it can be tricky to get the syntax right at first. Use David Vargas’ Query Builder extension to give you an easier interface for editing them. Lesson 6 of my email Roam course is online if you want a quick primer.

17. Text with alias

One of the most common things I do is block reference previous blocks to track how my thoughts change over time. To do this, I use Text with alias to get a copy of the text, change it as I need to and have a convenient link to the original block.

18. Inline Reference Count

One of those features you didn’t know you needed until it arrived. The unobtrusive numbers act as a really easy way to see just how much you’ve referenced something that you can effortlessly expand inline.

19. YouTube embeds with timestamp annotation

I don’t watch too many videos, but having notes tied directly to the timestamp in the video is just so handy

20. Attributes

Handy for creating metadata

21. Attribute Tables

Creates tables from attributes. I use it to visualise metadata I collect about habits and scorecards.

22. Embeds

I embed my latest weekly lessons learned in my daily note template to re-read it every day to help me keep things top of mind and without duplication.

23. Namespaces

I follow the PARA system for organisation outside of Roam, and namespacing in Roam helps to mimic the folder style, and makes it easy for me to find certain types of pages easily, e.g. project/ or book/

24. Inline Calculator

Surprisingly handy, especially given you can use block references seamlessly, so it’s handy to calculate costs with variables directly in my notes.

25. Pomodoro Timer

I use it all the time for timed writing sessions and email triage. My only wish is for it to be more visible and persistent when the time is up, so I don’t breeze past it when I’m focused.

26. Create block below

Surround some text with the block referencing double parentheses and choose it from the menu. Super handy for quickly extracting part of a block that you want to reference. It’s these small and frictionless elements that make Roam so powerful to me.

27. SmartBlocks

One of my favourite and most essential extensions for creating powerful templated automations.

28. Roam42

Coming very soon to Roam Depot as WorkBench, TFTHacker’s (nee Roamhacker) amazing extension really highlighted the power inherent in Roam. It has so many features that have become essential to my daily use. Just one example that I use several times per day–a keyboard shortcut to create a “Text with alias” reference of the current block I’m in.

29. Roam Studio

A complete system for theming, now made even easier through Roam Depot.

30. Masonry mode

I’ve been using this add-in for the sidebar from Abhay and Murf for a long time to make even better use of the horizontal space in Roam. I’m looking forward to it being included in Roam Studio soon.

31. Find and Replace

This newer extension by Fabrice Gallet has been another great tool in my toolbox. A common simple use case is quickly prepending > to several blocks that I want to be quoted.

I’ll go into more details in a future newsletter, but Matt Brockwell also discovered that it also makes aliasing much easier too.

For example, if you have a singular/plural issue, like wanting references to cities to point to city, go into a page full of the thing you need to alias (cities), call up the command palette, choose find and replace (page) and do: replace cities with [cities](city) 💥

32. PDF Highlighter (v2)

This all-new PDF highlighter in Roam Depot brings Roam much more in line with PDF highlighters in other TFTs.

33. Elapsed Time calculator

Also recently updated and added to Roam Depot from a SmartBlocks extension; this is one of my most used extensions to make Interstitial Journaling as easy as possible and see where I’m spending my time.

34. Reference Path

Now in Roam Depot, an upgraded version of Azlen Elza’s original bullet path extension. It makes it much easier to see the block hierarchy.

35. iRoam

A roam/js plugin by Vlad Sitalo which gives you a programmable notebook in Roam that I wrote about in Letter XXIV

36. Mindmap

A RoamJS plugin to show blocks as a traditional mindmap that can be exported to PNG or OPML

37. roam/css

I love being able to use CSS styling and the included BlueprintJS library to give Roam a bit of pizzazz and visually highlight certain blocks or tags.

38. Block-based Zettelkasten

The block-based zettelkasten method pioneered by Beau Haan continues to pay dividends as a way for me to structure and internalise the information and ideas I come across.

39. Case-sensitive tags

A controversial topic, with many wishing for insensitivity. I vastly prefer having case-sensitive tags and pages. I use them to my advantage in conjunction with namespacing to define tags for statuses. They’re easy to search for and easy to style to make them stand out further.

40. Hang tags

Defining specific, uniquely defined pages makes collection trivial. For example, I have my 12 favourite problems defined in Roam and use a set of tags starting with #12- that act as shortcuts to them for collection points (plus linked into my zettelkasten system). I wrote more about my tagging practices on my personal blog.

41. Roam tags

The Roam team recently added a few of their favourite tag styles to the product so we can all use them. I now use the .rm-hide in my [[Writing Session Scorecard]] to hide the metadata I use to track my writing sessions.

42. Paste with soft line breaks

If you want to copy and paste several lines of text into Roam but you want them all in one block use Cmd-Shift-V

43. Zooming blocks

Use Cmd-, and Cmd-. to zoom in and out of the current block. I use this all the time to just focus on one section at a time

44. Opening pages using the keyboard

There are tons of keyboard shortcuts, and it’s worth exploring many of them in the hotkey settings, but I use Control-O to navigate to the link under my cursor and Control-Shift-O to open it in the sidebar all the time. Works for page or block references and acts like Zoom too.

45. Advance to next block

When you’re zoomed into a block, press Control-C then Control-M and you’ll move to the next block - useful if you’re presenting in Roam. You can change the hotkeys for it in settings.

46. Emoji in page references

Use emojis in your page references to make them easy to visually identify when you’re searching for pages in the auto-completion list.

47. Count for composing tweets

Use this shortcode to count the characters in a block. When you have more than 240 characters in a block, the counter will turn red. It’s very handy for writing tweets in Roam. Pair that with tweet extensions, and you can tweet directly from Roam and not get drowned in the noise.

48. Semantic goldmines

You probably notice you type certain phrases, especially if you journal in Roam; one of my favourite things to do is create a page of that phrase and explore the unlinked references. (And another hat-tip to Matt Brockwell for originating this phrase)

49. Roam Book Club (RBC)

The Roam Book Club is a fantastic group of people, and conveniently, we’re about to embark on the next round. It’s not too late to join us. You can learn more by watching the replay of our RBC8 Perspective info session, and sign up for the main book club list to stay informed here. And you can sign up for RBC8 here.

50. Roam Community

That’s you. I’m grateful for your attention, and I hope you enjoy my newsletter ramblings as much as I enjoy writing them. Roam makes it a joy and not a chore. Without it, I couldn’t have consistently published 50 editions as a side hobby while I run a growing company, take part in RBC as an organiser and participant, be a Scout leader and still have time for my family.

It’s no hyperbole for me to say that Roam has fundamentally helped to change the quality of my thinking and achieve more in the last couple of years than in the previous decade.

Here’s to the next 50.

Thanks for reading. And don't forget you can give me your feedback by replying to this email. I read and appreciate them all, even if I cannot respond to everything.

Until next time,


P.S. I really enjoy writing these newsletters, but they take a huge of time to curate and write. I don't seek to monetise them, but the software does cost me real money to send them out. If you enjoy my work and find value in the ideas I share, please consider contributing to my running costs. I accept donations via Buy Me a Coffee, where you can now also become a member to support me regularly and get a few perks into the bargain.

A massive thanks to Scott, who signed up for an annual membership, and also to "wackslacks" and Pierre for your generous donations. 🙏

Finally, if you'd like some help or guidance for making the most of Roam in your note-taking practice, I offer a few private 1-1 Roam coaching sessions.

Andy Henson

I write Letters from a Roaman, curating community news and resources primarily around Roam Research, though I also include other information applicable to other tools for thought and the area in general. I also share my thoughts on a wide variety of tools for thought topics.

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