[LFR] Letters from a Roaman - Letter LI

Happy Tuesday, friends,

18 months ago, I posited that the five fundamentals of Roam were:

  • Using the Daily Note Pages
  • Thinking in blocks
  • Indentation
  • Page references and tags
  • Block references

Since then, I’ve had what turned out to be a huge article sitting in my drafts which hasn’t yet seen the light of day.

Over the next few LFR essay editions, I will discuss these fundamentals and explore them more thoroughly. You’ll have a solid foundation to build on when you have understood and mastered these concepts.

Thinking Out Loud

What are Daily Note Pages?

It’s not an accident that Roam has the concept of daily note pages. There’s no option to turn them off. That’s the first clue Roam wants you to lean into using them. Unlike any other page you might create in Roam, you cannot change the title of a daily note page. They have an inbuilt “datiness” about them. You’ll see why this is important later.

Pages in Roam are just a special kind of block. In turn, the daily note pages are first-class citizens, the Patricians of Roam, if you will.

The daily note page is a convenient container of the day’s thoughts. Using them consistently makes it simple to triangulate your thoughts over time. It’s a deceptively simple idea that’s been around for a long time. It’s like having a physical, dated journal or planner on your desk. It’s already open to the day’s page, where you can quickly jot a thought.

It removes the mental energy required to decide where to write. Compared to a typical file/page-based system, there’s no time lag between having a thought and noting it. You don’t have to decide what to name a file or page, create it, open it, and finally make the note. In my previous note-taking system, Bear, I frequently forgot what I wanted to capture because of having to decide the organisation up-front.

If you have a certain cadence to your days, then with a template, it becomes a daily home page where you can orient yourself with as much or as little structure as you need.

Think in blocks

I used to call these atomic thoughts, but I don’t think that articulates the principle well. Thinking a single thought and capturing it in a single block is the aim. It may take several blocks to express a single idea.

A block is uniquely addressable so that it can be referenced, reused and remixed. This means a block could be as simple as a single word, a sound or a visual. Or it could be several paragraphs of prose and anything in between. Importantly, disabuse yourself of the notion that they should be well-formed sentences. They can be. But they don’t have to be.

Write for yourself with conciseness and reuse in mind.


Roam is an outliner, which is an excellent tool for helping you to think more clearly, but there is an art to it. Outlining comes more naturally to some than others. When it’s done well;

  • It brings structure to your thoughts
  • It helps you to sequence them
  • It helps you to plan better
  • It helps you keep related ideas together and defines their relationships to each other.

If you look around, you can see outlines everywhere. A nested list of related items is an outline. Tasks that have subtasks - that’s an outline. Mindmaps are outlines, as is any other kind of tree-like information structure. For example, it’s how you traverse the files in your computer system.

Good outliners make it frictionless to move these units of information around quickly. The idea is to get the jumbled thoughts out of your head quickly, then use the power of outlining to rearrange, reorganise and rewrite them until they make logical sense.

Page references and tags

Surround words and phrases with [[]], and Roam automatically creates a page if one doesn’t already exist. Whenever you visit the page, you’ll find where it was linked from showing up in the list of Linked References at the bottom.

These are bi-directional links or backlinks because they point back to where you referenced this same page across your whole notes graph. As you reference it more and more, the list grows.

It can be convenient to think about pages as collections of blocks directly on the page itself and via the linked references.

Page references are how you link and roam your thoughts and connect other notes. Roam makes it seamless. When you combine a page reference with proper indenting, you define a relationship between the page reference and the blocks nested below. These child blocks then show up in the linked references on that page.

Roam also has tags. They are nothing but page references in disguise. Roam displays them differently so you can differentiate semantically and visually. Power and flexibility.

Tags can be used for many purposes. The tag form can have visual styling associated with it to make the meaning of the tag name more evident to you. For example, tags are often used as status indicators or conveniences for classifying types of TODOs, e.g. in a GTD system.

Generally speaking, I will use the double bracket style page reference within the text I write in blocks and then use the tag style to add other orthogonal references I want to connect to that block. ## Block references The final element is block references. We discussed earlier that the unit of information in Roam is a block, which is uniquely referenceable. Think of it like a house address. A house number combined with a zip code or postcode uniquely identifies it.

Right-click on a bullet and choose “Copy Block Ref”. Paste it into a new block, and you’ll see some seemingly random sequence of letters and numbers, i.e. lW36MrQSJ This is that block’s address or, as it’s known, block reference.

Just as we reference a page by surrounding it with double square brackets, we can reference a specific block by surrounding it with double parentheses. Typing the opening parentheses brings up an auto-complete search to make it easy to find a block you want to insert into your current block.

The real power of Roam is in this ability to reference prior thoughts quickly. It enables you to use, reuse and remix them easily.

If any of these ideas challenge you, I encourage you to lean into them and put them into practice in your Roam graph. I also want to hear from you whether you disagree or think there are elements I’m missing or incomplete.

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 enjoy writing these newsletters, but they take up a lot of my 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 big thank you to new member Daniel, and also to Bill and Matt for your 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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