For research: RoamResearch, a course, the Sci-Hubify button, ConnectedPapers, Otter.ai, and my workflow using them

If you do research, or simply enjoy a rich intellectual life, I have a few recommendations for tools and workflows you might find useful.

(Not) my recommended “processingflow” for research. You’ll love it.

RoamResearch, a new kind of platform

RoamResearch is a notes tool designed for building a network of your thoughts. Check out this demo video, even just one minute of it:

As easy to use as a bullet-point list. As powerful as a graph database – where you can link anything and effortlessly build your own mega-wiki of everything you ever think about.

Roam helps you organize your ideas, research, and to-dos for the long haul.

Having it open in a tab affects my entire attitude about research. I feel like I’m playing learning: the video game.” – Chelsea Voss, Member of Technical Staff, OpenAI

It’s a platform for personal knowledge management (PKM), but Roam can do much more. That’s why at Future Matters Project why we use it for project planning, task planning, and all other thinking processes that gain from writing or can even be “template-ified”.

A key feature is bi-directional linking between pages. From any page, you can see all places that link to it, and jump to those.

Roam is built to accommodate any structure. No more “which folder should this go in?”. It’s all a decentral network. You can make any structures you want. It’s similar to your brain, just get it close enough. Perfect categorization is not needed.

I’ve scratched the surface here. Go see for yourself.

Cite to Write” Roam course for academics

German Ph.D. student Lukas Kawerau has a course (“Cite to Write”) out. It’s meant specifically for academics, covering eg. source reading for academics, processing inputs, writing atomic evergreen notes to synthesize research, using queries to hunt for insights across pages. I think it’s going to keep developing in a direction I have not seen anywhere else, and I warmly recommend it.

ConnectedPapers, a tool for discovering related publications

ConnectedPapers.com visually groups related papers as a force-directed graph, but not based on direct references – no, based on the overlap of their citations, and who in turn references them. I strongly recommend this, especially for literature review! It’s become part of my workflow quickly.

A recently added function: You can download any list of collected papers in the .bib format, for keeping offline or importing into your favorite reference manager.

I use ConnectedPapers to scan for papers of interest (since developing new ideas obviously requires synthesis of existing research – and that requires overview, which for humans is best done visually and not as a citation tree). It helps me discover other related papers once I have one in hand, and gain an overview of the publications in a field. 

Would be very happy to discuss how the discovery of sources can best be linked to the optimal use of Roam. So far, CP does not link directly with my writing – it’s just a research tool and there is not much synergy.

The Sci-Hubify button

Please don’t do this one, as major publishing firms – who profit from closing publicly-funded research behind paywalls and charging for it – will not like it. I have of course not tried it, so I cannot confirm it’s great. Learning is damaging to one’s ignorance anyway.

So, DO NOT add this as the URL for a bookmark:

javascript:location.hostname += '.sci-hub.se' 

Which, when you click on a paywalled research article, automatically takes you to the Sci-Hub version of it. And DO NOT try this, see that it works wonderfully, and share it with others.

After focusing, go on a walk and use Otter.ai to record your “diffuse mode” thoughts/ideas

tl;dr: If you want to walk and let your brain think through a question and document your thoughts, use voice transcription app Otter.ai and import the transcriptions via txt/clipboard to RoamResearch.

After reading and annotating a new paper, I often have open questions, I’m full of ideas and insights. I want to document all these and go down each rabbit hole.

I love to go out for a short walk and take questions/ideas with me, to make use of “diffused mode thinking”. (You know when you get ideas or answers back from your brain some hours later, while under the shower or cleaning?).

But for the longest time, I had no good way to prevent loss of ideas while walking – notebook forces a stop, voice memos mean transcribing. On top of that, I want to advance while documenting, just as I think by writing. My hurried notes are hard to read and don’t help my thoughts move forward in the same way.

Fellow Roam user Stian Haklev (twitter: @houshang) uses the automatic voice transcription app Otter.ai to record himself on walks. And that works for me, too. 

https://networkedthought.substack.com/p/learning-effectively-with-podcasts 
 
He starts off by discussing “learning from podcasts”, but my main discovery was that I could go for a walk using Otter, and export my transcribed recordings as plaintext, and import to Roam. 

I use it little enough that the monthly free contingent (600 mins of recording time) works for me, but I know it will be worth the price for me. With the newest version, you can even voice-annotate parts of the transcript – see Twitter – so you can add comments under your previous thoughts!

You might want to add terms that it won’t know to the dictionary (like “Roam” and any words from your domain that it does not transcribe correctly).