Tools for research

Back in August, the biggest gap in my writing was the depth of my ideas. I asserted that, while the topics were of interest, I needed to go deeper. And to go deeper, I needed to be more thorough. Which meant learning to research.

I’ve still plenty to work on, but I’ve made some progress. Here’s some of the tools and tactics I’m trying out.

Roam Research (or your favourite note taking app)

Chris Sacca—one of the most successful venture capitalists ever—insists that note taking is a foundational skill of every successful person he knows.

I can attest to the fact that since forming my own note taking and journaling habits, I'm far more confident in tackling complex subjects, and learn at a much faster rate. Note taking is one of the most important forms of observation, which is a transformative skill in its own right.

Roam Research helps you build on this through bi-directional linking, and an interface which gets out of your way and focuses you on exploring your thoughts. Don’t let my simple description fool you though, there’s way more to Roam than one novel feature.

It’s not to everyone’s tastes. It’s a little ugly and rough round the edges. Thankfully, Ness Labs is to the rescue, with How to choose the right note taking app.

Index cards as bookmarks

Index cards and post-it notes have turned into one of my go to weapons on a daily basis. From taking notes to deciding immediate priorities, just getting something down on paper is far more useful than trying to keep it in your head.

Next time you’re reading a physical book, replace your bookmark with an index card. As you make your way through, highlight passages in the book and mark down the page numbers on the card. Add commentary as you go.

When you're done with that session, write them up in Roam to reference later.

If you’ve neat enough handwriting, you can skip the write up by using Google Lens. Take a picture of it, let Google Lens pick up on all the words, and copy it straight to your computer. Magic ✨ → ReadWise → Roam

The digital equivalent of the index card, let's you annotate and highlight almost any page on the web.

By default, it saves all your highlights and annotations to a public feed where other users can comment and discuss them with you.

For me, it isn't all that useful on its own, but combine it with ReadWise and you're on to a winner.

ReadWise resurfaces your notes to you in a handy summary email every so often. Using a technique known as spaced repetition which is proven to help with recall.

And the new Roam integration levels the whole system up. Instead of keeping the notes to itself, ReadWise now puts your notes where they should be: in your note taking app.

Instapaper → ReadWise → Roam is great for when you're already reading something. But there's always times where you perhaps don't have the time, or aren't ready to read the entire piece. Instapaper solves this by saving the whole article for later.

In the past, I've struggled to benefit from products like this. I've turned Paper and Safari's built in "read it later" feature to graveyards of articles I never end up reading, and won't ever return to.

But in building my own anti-library, along with ReadWise and it's Roam integration, I have a lot more incentive to make it work.

One limitation is that ReadWise doesn't import links into Roam. It'll only import what you highlight. It's frustrating, as I'd rather have all my links saved in one place. You can get around this by adding at least one note. The reason why you saved it in the first place.


Recommended by Monica Lent in Blogging for Devs (which I cannot recommend highly enough), KeySearch is a tool for doing keyword research for SEO.

You can plug in terms you want to know more about, and it'll give you the search volume, cost-per-click and pay-per-click rates, along with a rough score with how competitive it thinks the term is.

It’s expensive as experiments go, at \$17/month. But, KeySearch (and Monica's course) has been the gateway to me starting to understand SEO.


Another recommendation from Monica. AnswerThePublic lets you plug in a topic, say "Blog Research" and find all the questions people are asking about it. Results for this particular example:

  • "How to research blog content"
  • "How to research blog topics"
  • "What is a research blog"

Combine these answers with some handy work on KeySearch, and you've got a nice starting point for some posts.

Connected Papers

Anne-Laure’s work on Ness Labs is always impressive. The vast majority is grounded in science. In fact, I'm unable to recall a single article that doesn't cite some form of paper.

Recommended in a tweet, Connected Papers could be summarised as the externalisation of the bi-directional link. It's a search engine to surface other relevant papers to the one you're already reading. Combine with Google Scholar (and the chancing upon papers in your other research) for a network of inspiration and references ready for use.

Going forward

I’m still figuring out how to use the tools, and apply my learnings. Maybe you’ve noticed a change? Or maybe this is your first time reading? Either way, I’d be curious to hear what you think. If you’ve any tools or tactics you swear by. Let me know on twitter, or reply to my newsletter.

P.S. I’ll be keeping this up to date with new info, and you want to follow along, subscribe below 👇

4 mins to read