Digital Smart Notes Part 2: Exporting Highlights to Roam Research With Readwise

To create literature notes, you need a reliable system in which to process your fleeting notes. That system, for me, is Roam Research.

Digital Smart Notes Part 2: Exporting Highlights to Roam Research With Readwise

To create literature notes, you need a reliable system in which to process your fleeting notes. That system, for me, is Roam Research.

In this continuation of my "Digital Smart Notes" series, I will discuss exporting the notes in Readwise to Roam Research for further processing. If you haven't read Part 1, I would suggest that you start there. This article assumes that you are already using Readwise to collect notes and highlights across different media formats and that you have a Roam Research account for processing the notes that you collect.

In "How to Take Smart Notes," author Sönke Ahrens outlines the high-level steps for this note-taking system that will help you to become a more prolific and thorough writer.

  • Make fleeting notes.
  • Make literature notes.
  • Make permanent notes.

Fleeting notes are refined into literature notes. A literature note's scope is on the particular article, book, podcast, video, tweet, etc., that you are processing. From multiple literature notes in the same knowledge domain, you create permanent notes. Literature notes further crystalize your knowledge and thoughts on a topic in your own words. A collection of literature notes and permanent notes might become the scaffolding for an article, paper, or book.

This article will discuss the process that sits between making fleeing notes (what you have imported into Readwise) and creating literature notes. To create literature notes, you need a reliable system in which to process your fleeting notes. That system, for me, is Roam Research. Let's dive right into integrating Readwise and Roam Research.

Integration and Template Setup

Once you have your fleeting notes and highlights captured into Readwise, you can export them to several services. This article will discuss exporting them to Roam Research for further processing. The first step is heading over to your Readwise account dashboard on a desktop browser. Then follow these steps to set up the initial integration:

  • Under "Connect & Sync," choose Export.
  • Select Roam, and Readwise will present you with a prompt to log in to Roam Research.
  • Go ahead and log in to Roam Research and choose the graph you'd like to use for the Readwise export.
  • Once you have logged in, Readwise will present you with some options for your export.
Readwise Roam Export Login
Readwise Roam Export Login

Integration Options

Readwise Roam Export Options
Readwise Roam Export Options

After you initially log in to Roam Research with the Readwise integration, you will be presented with the following options to toggle on or off:

  • Export Automatically- This option will automatically export new highlights as you collect and import them to Readwise. I leave this turned on.
  • Include Highlight Locations- This option will show, if available, a highlight location or page number along with the highlight. This is very useful for opening the highlight, in context, in the Kindle App on your desktop, for example. I leave this turned on.
  • Use Custom Formatting- This option will allow you to format your Roam Research export using Readwise Templates. I turn this on and use a customized template to control what information gets exported into Roam Research.

Readwise Template

Readwise allows you to customize the presentation of highlights and notes when exported to Roam Research. It does this by using the Jinja 2 Templating Language. This article is not a primer on Jinja 2, but the option to customize the template exists if you want to dive into the documentation. I will show you my template to get you started on processing your smart notes in Roam Research. Full documentation on customizing these templates are in the Readwise Templates Help Article.

Readwise templates contain four sections. They are Page Title, Page Metadata, Highlights Header, and Sync Notification. There is a preview of the expected output of the Readwise template on the right side of the Readwise Roam Export setup page. I use a modified version of Kyle Stratis' Readwise Template.

Page Title

When Readwise exports the highlights and notes from a book, article, tweet, podcast, video, etc., it creates a Roam Research page. This section of the Readwise template will determine the title of that page. I like to keep it simple. I use the title of the piece of media and the text "(highlights)." This way, I know it is referring to a highlight import from Readwise.

{{title}} (highlights)

Page Metadata

The page metadata is the data that appears at the top of the page for each imported media piece. Here is where I define whatever metadata is relevant to me. I would recommend, at a minimum, the following.

  • Type
  • Author
  • Full Title
  • Link

I also add the following to help with processing the notes and highlights later.

  • Recommended By- Useful if I want to circle back with the person/site that recommended the media piece to me.
  • Status- I use either Waiting or Processed here to let me know if I have processed this piece of media.
  • Tags- I use a default tag of Readwise here to keep everything organized on a Readwise page. I may add other tags from time to time to the imported highlights.

I add a Literature Notes section at the bottom to collect the literature notes that I might take while processing the piece of media. I also use a bit of "if...then" logic to define categories for media selection. This logic is especially useful for videos since Readwise does not have a pre-defined category for videos yet.

Finally, I added some questions that I sometimes use to dig further into the piece of media adapted from "How to Read a Book" by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren and the Galaxy Brain course by @cortexfutura.

    Type:: #{% if 'youtube' in url %}Video{% elif category == "articles" %}Article{% elif category == "books" %}Book{% elif category == "tweets" %}Tweet{% else %}{{category}}{% endif %} 
    Author:: [[{{author}}]] 
    Recommended By:: 
    Full Title:: {{full_title}} 
    Status:: #Waiting 
    Tags:: #Readwise 
    {% if url %}Link:: {{url}}{% endif %} 
    {% if image_url %}![]({{image_url}}){% endif %}
# [[Inspectional Summary]] - (Book)
   {{"What is this book about?"|indent(first=True)}}
   {{"Does this book look at the topic through a single narrative or different facets?"|indent(first=True)}}
   {{"What sub-topics does the book cover?"|indent(first=True)}}
# [[Inspectional Summary]] - (Article / Paper / Video)
   {{"What is this article/paper/video about?"|indent(first=True)}}
   {{"What is the research question?"|indent(first=True)}}
   {{"What is the finding?"|indent(first=True)}}
   {{"What type of study is this?"|indent(first=True)}}
   {{"Which literature is this building on?"|indent(first=True)}}
# [[Analytical Summary]]
   {{"Abstract / Unity"|indent(first=True)}}
   {{"Important Concepts"|indent(first=True)}}
# [[📚 Literature Notes]]
{{"Create New Notes Here!"|indent(first=True)}}

Highlights Header

The highlights header is the text that appears above each set of synced highlights. Here, I want to know two pieces of information.

  • If this is a new piece of media, when was the first sync?
  • If this is an existing piece of media, when were the latest set of highlights synced?
{% if is_new_page %}
Highlights first synced by #Readwise [[{{date}}]]
{% elif has_new_highlights %}
New highlights added [[{{date}}]] at {{time}}
{% endif %}

Sync Notification

Finally, the sync notification section places text inside the newly created Readwise page when you start the Readwise to Roam Research export process.

On [[{{date}}]] at {{time}} Readwise synced {{num_highlights}} highlight{{num_highlights|pluralize}} from {{num_books}} book{{num_books|pluralize}}.

Items to Sync

Once you have set up your template, you can choose the items to sync. By default, Readwise will set only the first ten media items to sync. You can check off more individually, or there are several options in the dropdown menu.

I would recommend only choosing a couple of items to begin so that you can see what they will look like after the export to your Roam Research database (graph) completes.

Roam Research Import Results

Once you complete the setup, you will see several new items in your Roam Research database. The first thing to take a look at is the newly created Readwise page.

Roam Research Readwise Page
Roam Research Readwise Page

You can see a running list of sync notifications. If you go to the bottom of the Readwise page and take a look at the "Linked References," you will see the pages for each piece of media.

Roam Research Readwise Linked References
Roam Research Readwise Linked References

If you click into one of the pages listed in "Linked References," you will see a page laid out like the template you configured on the Readwise site. Here is the page for "How to Take Smart Notes." I have already taken some literature notes on this particular book.

Roam Research How to Take Smart Notes Page
Roam Research How to Take Smart Notes Page

If you dig in a little further, you can see the imported set of highlights.

Roam Research How to Take Smart Notes Highlights
Roam Research How to Take Smart Notes Highlights


You now have everything set up to export your highlights and notes from Readwise to Roam Research. Readwise templates allow each page and highlight to remain consistent. The next article in this series will discuss how to process your highlights and notes into literature notes using Roam Research.

Harley Stagner

I'm an IT professional working in technical marketing. I truly believe that our thoughts are the most unique asset that we can offer to the world. This will be a curated collection of mine.