Digital Smart Notes Part 4: Creating Permanent Notes In Roam Research

...the audience here consists of our future selves, which will very soon have reached the same state of ignorance as someone who never had access to what we have written about. -Sönke Ahrens, "How to Take Smart Notes

Digital Smart Notes Part 4: Creating Permanent Notes In Roam Research

...the audience here consists of our future selves, which will very soon have reached the same state of ignorance as someone who never had access to what we have written about. -Sönke Ahrens, "How to Take Smart Notes

This is an important milestone in my "Digital Smart Notes" article series. Here, I will show you how to plant an idea for your future self to grow. If you need a refresher, I have discussed the following so far in the series:

I am following the process of note-taking that was discussed in "How to Take Smart Notes," by Sönke Ahrens:

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

In this article, we have finally arrived at making a permanent note. This is the knowledge seed that you will leave for your future self to nurture and grow.

Planting a seed of knowledge

...the audience here consists of our future selves, which will very soon have reached the same state of ignorance as someone who never had access to what we have written about. -Sönke Ahrens, "How to Take Smart Notes

A permanent note is an attempt at crystalizing a thought from multiple literature notes from a related topic or topic. To find those literature notes that are related, I use an invaluable chrome extension called Roam Portal. It allows me to search through my Roam Research database for literature notes that I will use to create my permanent notes. The overall process is:

  • Make sure that I am viewing any Roam research page.
  • Open the Roam Portal extension.
  • In the "Linked Page" section of the search, enter "Literature Notes"
  • Open advance search parameters by clicking the carrot in the top right.
  • In the mentions of page, enter "Reference." This narrows down the search to actual literature notes and maybe your Roam native template if you use it.
  • In the bottom section of the advanced search, click on "References." This will show other referenced tags on the literature note and the number of times the referenced tag has occurred. As you create more literature notes, you will notice clusters of tags.
  • Identify the tag that you want to work on. In our example, we will use "Writing."
Roam Portal Search
Roam Portal Search

Assembling the Literature Notes

Once I have an idea of the tag that I want to pull from, I run a Roam Research query to surface those literature notes relevant to the tag. I do this by having a space open in the main area and in the right sidebar. In my case, I have created a page called "🏰 Mind Palace" that I use for this purpose. I open it in the main area, focusing on a block called "Permanent Note Creation" in the right sidebar.

Mind Palace

On the main page, I run a query for my literature notes that looks like this:

{{[[query]]: {and: [[Literature Notes]] [[Writing]] {not: {or: [[Permanent Notes]] [[🏰 Mind Palace]][[📨 Writing Inbox]]}}}}}

This looks complicated, but all it is really doing is performing an "and, not, or" query for Pages with "Literature Notes" and "Writing" but not "Permanent Notes," "🏰 Mind Palace," or "📨 Writing Inbox." While I must filter these out of my results, you will need to play around with the query to develop your desired outcome.

As I glance down the list of literature notes surfaced by the query, I can see the ones that have not been processed into permanent notes. They do not have the literature note page title repeated below them. If you follow the process outlined in this article, you will have a similar view.

You may return to previously processed literature notes at some point. But, for now, we will be sticking with un-processed literature notes. What I do now is glance down the results, and if I start to notice literature notes of interest to me or I think might be related, I create a page reference to the note under the "Permanent Note Creation" block. This will just be a holding place for the notes that I want to process into a permanent note.

Once you have picked the literature notes you will use to create the permanent note, take some time to read over them and process them as follows:

  • Open each literature note in the right sidebar so you can view all of them at once. As you start to read and process the notes, a permanent note idea will begin to solidify in your mind.
  • Starting with the first literature note, underneath the page title, create a block with the page reference for that page repeated. So if your literature note page is called "Surround yourself with people that will help you accurately judge your work," then the page reference will read the same.
  • Once that is done, indent everything else underneath the page reference on the first block. Do this for each literature note that you will be using to create your permanent note.
Literature Notes to Be Used
Literature Notes to Be Used
Processed Literature Note
Processed Literature Note

Creating the Permanent Note

The rest of my process for creating a "Permanent Note" is one that I have modified from an insanely creative process that I learned from Beau Haan. I would highly encourage you to take a look at his Roam Tour with Robert Haisfield to get a sense of where I am coming from in this process.

I love how Beau's method creates a way to navigate your Roam slip-box of permanent notes in a way that makes a conversation. One of the significant ways that I differ from what was shown in the video is that I have spent quite a bit of time creating atomic notes that can be used, mixed, and re-mixed into whatever I'm thinking about. I did not want to disrupt that structure. I also wanted a permanent note to consist of multiple literature notes described in "How to take Smart Notes."

I created a page called "Slipbox" inside of my Roam Research database. On that page, I have a conversation of permanent notes, similar to what is seen using Beau Haan's method. I have top-level topics. Under those top-level topics, I may have related topics that follow the conversation.

Slipbox Page
Slipbox Page

With the "Slipbox" page open in the right sidebar and the "Daily Notes" page open in the main window, I create a permanent note using the following process:

  • Look where the new permanent note might fit in and create a reference point in the form of a hashtag for the conversation that resonates with you. In the example here, I will use "Finding My People" as that entry point. It is related to "Connecting With Your Audience," so I will insert the hashtag indented under that point.
  • On the same block line, use double brackets to create the new permanent note title. In this case, I decided on "Find people that you can be vulnerable with to help you create your unique work" as my note title.
  • Now open the newly created page in the right sidebar. It should show up above your slip-box.
  • Using a roam template, I create the permanent note structure, then just fill in the details.
New Permanent Note Entry in Slipbox
New Permanent Note Entry in Slipbox
Permanent Note Template Structure

Filling in the Permanent Note Structure

This next step is where you can begin to really see Roam Research's power by utilizing block references/block embeds. Fill out the permanent note structure using the following method:

  • Create a page reference to the permanent note page right under the permanent note title. Everything else should be indented under this. So if your permanent note page title is "Find people that you can be vulnerable with to help you create your unique work," your page reference on this block should read, "Find people that you can be vulnerable with to help you create your unique work"
  • Starting with Literature Notes, copy the block reference to the title of the literature note page reference that I had you insert into each literature note to make up this permanent note. These block references are to be indented under the "Literature Notes" section of the permanent note page. The reason for the page reference in the literature note and the indentation underneath will become clear now.
  • Click each literature note block reference text and replace it with a block embed using the menu. This allows the entire block and any indentions under it to be embedded into the permanent note.
  • After this is complete, continue filling out any other details about the permanent note (Type, Notes, any additional tags you want to add, etc.).
Copying Literature Note Block Reference
Copying Literature Note Block Reference
Replace Literature Note with Block Embed
Replace Literature Note with Block Embed
Completed Permanent Note
Completed Permanent Note

Creating the Daily Note Entry for the Permanent Note

Here is the final step to creating a permanent note and seeing all of your hard work pay off. As I stated earlier in this article, I loved how Beau Haan explained his process for creating permanent notes. The way that it creates a navigation-friendly structure for a bottom-up conversation with each permanent note is impressive. The one thing that did not work for me was connecting a single reference to a single permanent note. My permanent notes consist of multiple literature notes that may come from numerous sources. This is by design. So, my solution was to create the permanent note so that the literature notes and their richness were embedded into the permanent note to make the same conversation-like effect when traversing the slip-box in Roam Research.

With your Daily Notes page still on the left and your slip-box page on the right, use the following process to create your permanent note entry.

  • Create a note entry structure (using a roam native template if you'd like) for your note entry.
  • Starting at the top, fill in the appropriate note entry details, beginning with a timestamp.
  • Indent under the time stamp. This block should read “#[[Relevant Notes}} <index point in your slipbox>. The index point is the page reference form of the hashtag you used when creating the permanent note slip-box entry.
  • Indented under "Relevant Notes" are each of the relevant permanent notes that you want to connect to this permanent note. Think about conversations and connections that you may want to make with your future self. In this case, I will use the note next to "Idea Generation," "Incorporating Feedback," and "Tribalism." I'll create block references to these permanent notes in the slip-box by alt-dragging them to a block indented under "Relevant Notes."
  • The last entry under "Relevant Notes" should be the page reference to the permanent note that you just created in the previous steps. This should read #[[Permanent Notes]] <page reference to permanent note here>
  • Finally, you will alt-drag the block reference to the permanent note title block to a location indented under the "Permanent Notes" block. Replace that block reference with a block embed so that everything under the permanent note (sources, literature notes, etc.) is visible.
  • This is all very quickly done in action.
Permanent Note Entry Template
Permanent Note Entry Template
Completed Permanent Note Entry

Having a Conversation With Your Future Self

Over time, these slip-box entries will start to gain critical mass, and you can begin to have exciting conversations with yourself, making connections to the farthest locations of your slip-box. You can see this in action by looking at the inline-block references that now show up beside each entry in your slip-box. You can now explore the slip-box by using the following method:

  • Click the number beside the slip-box entry to open the inline references. You are presented with references for each time you used a block reference for "Relevant Notes" in a daily page permanent note entry.
  • In this case, we will look at the inline references beside "Incorporating Feedback."
  • You can view "Incorporating Feedback" and "Idea Generation," "Constraints," or "Finding My People."
  • If you click on the "Relevant Notes" hashtag beside each permanent note page reference, you can drill down further into the context of the permanent note entry.
Slipbox Inline-Block References
Slipbox Inline-Block References

You have now constructed the literature notes from highlights, and permanent notes from literature notes block embeds. Finally, a block embed of the permanent note has allowed you to see the full context from the bottom up. When you are ready to write, you now have all of this rich content, in context, to pick and choose from.

Slipbox Expanded Inline-Block References


Thank you if you have come this far with me in the article series on digital smart notes. So far, we have:

As the goal of taking notes in this manner is to produce content and learn, the final article in this series will discuss how I use the permanent notes in my Roam Research slip-box to create content. Since I have followed the "How to Take Smart Notes method, much of the work has already been done. I just have to take atomic pieces of my notes and re-organize them into content to publish.

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.