Browse By

Using Markdown: A Quicker Way to Write for the Web

Negative Space

Negative Space (Photo credit: koesbong)

Most of us grew up writing in a word processor, editing our words for the printed page. I argued recently that we need to re-train ourselves to write for the web instead of the printed page. Since I wrote that post I’ve been looking for the perfect app to help me simply write for the web. it turns out that the perfect app isn’t an app at all– it’s Markdown.

What is Markdown?

Markdown is not an “app” at all– it’s a simple way to format your writing so you can focus on your content instead of entering complicated HTML code. Writing Markdown consists of adding common punctuation in your writing that then gets automatically converted into HTML so you don’t have to write the tedious opening and closing tags like

<h2> This is my header, and </h2>
<p>this is my paragraph.</p> 

Instead, you just write

## This is my header, and 
this is my paragraph.

and your text is formatted into valid HTML automatically by the converter! Cool Right?

The whole idea of Markdown is to simplify writing by letting you focus on what you are saying, not how it looks.

How is it better than my Rich Text Editor?

This is a free software screenshot of the EXT ...

This is a free software screenshot of the EXT rich text editor. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was pretty skeptical of Markdown at first– it seemed pretty geeky to learn a new markup language considering that I didn’t have a huge problem using MS Word or the rich text editor in my blog to do my writing. I fell in love with Markdown when I was taking notes at a conference and needed to quickly add headers and bullets while listening to the speaker– just a quick keystroke and they were there!As I’ve been working with it I find that it’s even easier to use than a rich text editor because I don’t have to take my hands off the keyboard to bold text or add a link– there’s a markdown command for that. I can just focus on the words I’m writing and not get bogged down in “prettifying” my words.

 

My TextMate Markdown Set-Up

My TextMate Markdown Set-Up (Photo credit: Anthony Baker)

Also, since Markdown is a way of writing text and not an “app”, you can write Markdown in any text editor you like. Your notes are not trapped in a proprietary format or tied to a particular app– the file format Markdown lives in can be a regular .txt file. As long as they have the Markdown formatting which you can learn here then they can easily be converted when it’s time to convert them to HTML. You can keep your writing organized as simple text files, and you can sync them between your different devices with Google Drive, Dropbox, or y’know– WHATEVER YOU LIKE. I use Evernote for most of my note taking, and even though it doesn’t support Markdown, my Markdown-formatted notes can be easily converted to HTML whenever I’m ready.

Beyond Productivity– An Intro to HTML for Students

Not only is Markdown a great way to stay productive, but teachers could use it as a less threatening introduction to writing HTML for students. Often newbies find HTML code a bit scary, while Markdown looks very much like plain text. As students dip their toes in the water of formatting their writing semantically, they can also see how the Markdown converter transforms their formatting into HTML.

Apps that Help You Master Markdown.

markdown training planAs more people have discovered the joys of Markdown, some pretty great Markdown editor apps have emerged. Though you could use any text editor to write Markdown, these apps have nice features like automatically converting your text from Markdown to HTML as you type and showing you a preview of your HTML-formatted text.

For Windows I have been enjoying Haroo Pad which was a perfect tool to learn Markdown on because it has so many great keystrokes, rich text buttons, and a preview window so I can see what I’m doing. It loads quickly and even supports MultiMarkdown, an expanded set of syntax tools to do even more robust formatting.

On Mac I am using the amazing MOU app for markdown,  a steal at “free” while it’s in beta. I am using it to write this article and am loving how easy it makes the task of composing an article! The excellent Mac app Marked allows you to write Markdown in whichever text editor you like best, and watches the text file you’re working in so it can provide an HTML preview of the Markdown document you’re writing.

Byword appears to be the darling Markdown editor for iOS, while I use MD Reader on Android.

Also, be on the lookout for Markdown support in your favorite cloud-based apps. Popular tools like WordPress, Tumblr, GitHub, Trello, and SimpleNote fully support markdown input.

Summary

If you’re someone who writes content for the web (and that’s most of us now!) Markdown can save you a lot of time formatting and adding links to your writing with just a few simple keystrokes that anyone can learn. The next time you’re sitting down to do a long piece of writing, try using some simple Markdown syntax to add titles, links, or bulleted lists to your writing. You’ll see how easy it is to produce a great looking document and post it to the web quickly and easily.

See the Markdown Version

To see the markdown I actually wrote for this article, see below.   #Using Markdown: A Quicker Way to Write for the Web Most of us grew up writing in a word processor, editing our words for the printed page. I argued recently that we need to re-train ourselves to write for the web instead of the printed page. Since I wrote that post I've been looking for the perfect app to help me simply write for the web. it turns out that the perfect app isn't an app at all-- it's Markdown. ##What is Markdown? Markdown is not an "app"-- it's a way to format your writing so you can focus on writing instead of entering weird HTML code. When you're ready to put it online, you feed it into a converter and get web-ready HTML code to paste into your blog, LMS, or website. Writing Markdown consists of adding common punctuation in your writing that then gets automatically converted into HTML so you don't have to write the tedious opening and closing tags like Content Text Instead, you just write > [Content Text] (http://daringfireball.net/projects/markdown/) and the link is created automatically by the converter! [Cool Right?] (http://daringfireball.net/projects/markdown/) The whole idea of Markdown is to simplify writing by letting you focus on what you are saying, not how it looks. ##How is it better than my Rich Text Editor? I was pretty skeptical of Markdown at first-- it seemed pretty geeky to learn a new language considering that I didn't have a huge problem using MS Word or the rich text editor in my blog to do my writing. I fell in love with Markdown when I was taking notes at a conference and needed to quickly add headers and bullets while listening to the speaker-- just a quick keystroke and they were there! As I've been working with it I find that it's even easier to use than a rich text editor because I don't have to take my hands off the keyboard to bold text or add a link-- there's a markdown command for that. I can just focus on the words I'm writing and not get bogged down in "prettifying" my words. Also, since Markdown is a way of writing text and not an "app", you can write Markdown in any text editor you like. Your notes are not trapped in a particular format or tied to a particular app. As long as they have the Markdown formatting which you can learn here then they can easily be converted when it's time to convert them to HTML. You can keep your writing organized as simple text files, and you can sync them between your different devices with Google Drive, Dropbox, or y'know-- WHATEVER YOU LIKE. I use Evernote for most of my note taking, and even though it doesn't support Markdown, my Markdown-formatted notes can be easily converted to HTML whenever I'm ready. ##What if I want an app? As more people have discovered the joys of Markdown, some pretty great Markdown editor apps have emerged. Though you could use any text editor to write Markdown, these apps have nice features like automatically converting your text from Markdown to HTML as you type and showing you a preview of your HTML-formatted text. For Windows I have been enjoying Markdown Pad which was a perfect tool to learn Markdown on because it has so many great keystrokes, rich text buttons, and a preview window so I can see what I'm doing. It loads quickly and even supports MultiMarkdown, an expanded set of syntax tools to do even more robust formatting. On Mac I am using nvALT a modified version of Notational Velocity that fully supports Markdown. I am using it to write this article and am loving how easy it makes the task of composing an article! Even the reliable open source Mac text editor Smultron has a nice preview mode for Markdown learn more. ##Summary If you're someone who writes content for the web (and that's most of us now!) Markdown can save you a lot of time formatting and adding links to your writing with just a few simple keystrokes that anyone can learn. The next time you're sitting down to do a long piece of writing, try using some simple Markdown syntax to add titles, links, or bulleted lists to your writing. You'll see how easy it is to produce a great looking document and post it to the web quickly and easily.

Liked this post? Follow this blog to get more. 

2 thoughts on “Using Markdown: A Quicker Way to Write for the Web”

  1. ancawonka says:

    Thanks Ted!  This is a really thorough post! 

  2. tedcurran says:

    Cool! Trying out a new commenting system, Lifefyre, that allows me to tag people from my other social networks like Joshua Bridge in a WordPress comment. This way, I can tie together my blog with my social networks and keep all the conversation focused around the content!

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: