Over the years I’ve been exploring Markdown as a content development tool, I’ve tried most of the Markdown editors available for Mac and Windows. In this article I’ll share my preferred editors aimed at different types of writers.
Writers vs. Coders
Markdown is very popular among two main audiences — writing purists who love markdown because it removes all distractions from writing, and coders who write sometimes and who want to stay in their text editors rather than switching into a bloated, complicated office suite.
Most markdown editors are aimed primarily at one or the other of these two audiences. The ones for writers emphasize clean layouts, focus-boosting features, and simple exporting of content to other formats. The ones for coders come in the form of plugins for popular code editors, emphasizing code previewing and compatibility with GitHub.
For Writing Purists
I think Typora is the best of the free writer-focused markdown editors. Unlike many competitors, its default view is a distraction-free writing environment where markdown code is hidden behind an attractive preview of the finished document. Headings, images, links, and lists are displayed visually, and allow you to interact with the markdown code only if and when you want to.
It has a “Focus View” that fades out all parts of the document except the sentence you’re writing, heightening focus on your words. It also has a “Typewriter View” that keeps the active sentence in the middle of the page. Used together, they add a lot of value for wordsmiths.
Typora recently added an Outline view that gives you a handy sidebar for navigating between the main headings of your document — very helpful when creating longform content. Additional niceties like auto-pairing of tags and copious keystrokes strikes the perfect balance of letting you fully leverage everything you can do with markdown while effectively keeping it out of your way when you write.
It’s currently free while in beta, but I would be willing to pay $20-30 for such a useful and beautiful tool.
Honorable mention for writer-friendly markdown editors:
- MacDown: Mac only. Attractive, extensible, stable and feature rich. I still use this one when I want a side-by-side markdown preview.
- iA Writer: Not free and not for Windows. Attractive and feature-full editor — I use this one on Android.
For Coders who Write
For coders who write markdown, I would advise you to
- stay in the code editor you normally use, and
- use an open-source, extensible code editor that supports markdown plugins.
Anyone who’s spent any significant time editing code or designing websites probably has strong and abiding feelings about their text editor of choice. The new breed of free, open source text editors like Atom Editor, Adobe Brackets, and Microsoft VS Code serve as a core developer toolkit that can be extended into solid markdown editors using community-sourced plugins. My favorite of the three at the moment is VS Code since it feels more like a finished product and not a work-in-progress that needs plugins to be fully complete.
These are, of course, tools for people who are unafraid of looking at raw code or tinkering with their toolset while they get work done. While these editors don’t do as much to protect your precious attention from wayward distractions, they do give you powerful tools to integrate your text editor into a version control system, an FTP site, code preprocessors, and other geeky tools that could save you a ton of time if you had the time or the reason to explore them.
In other words,
“With great power comes great responsibility.”
~ Uncle Owen
If this is you, I’d recommend checking out Microsoft VS Code and this guide to setting up VS Code as an awesome markdown editor using plugins:
Honorable mention for coder-friendly markdown editors
Atom Editor from GitHub — an open source, extensible text editor with a huge selection of community-sourced plugins to make it do whatever you can think of.
One thing I love about markdown is that, unlike MS Word, the document’s source code itself is not trapped within the editor you use to create it. This means that you can open the same document in different applications to give you different views and capabilities depending on where you are in the creative process.
I may open the same document in Typora when I want to focus just on my writing, then open it in MARP if I want to preview what it’ll look like as a presentation, then open it in VS Code when I want to start tracking it in my GitHub repository or start editing an HTML copy of it. I might even copy the markdown code into my WordPress blog so I can add WordPress-specific code to prepare it for publishing.
If your work starts in markdown format, it’s much easier to convert to work well on other platforms later in your creative process.
Even if you fall more on the “writer” end of the writer vs. coder continuum, you may learn a lot from using a coder’s text editor once in a while just to see what features you might be missing in your distraction-free editor.
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