With Markdown you can write faster – documents, quick notes, web content and more. And you can publish more easily to almost any format – HTML, MS Word, pdf and countless more. What is Markdown? Is it some bloated software package that we’re peddling? No, it’s not something that can be bought and sold, it’s an extremely lightweight, simple syntax language for writing in a number of editors, many of them completely free.
Markdown is *faster*, **free-er** and has more [export formats](https://pandoc.org/).
This is what happens when this Markdown syntax is converted to HTML:
Markdown is faster, free-er and has more export formats.
Markdown is an lightweight markup language that looks like that. It’s easy to read and write and only has a few simple syntax formattings to remember. Markdown converts directly into HTML by design, so it’s a rapid way to write web content. But you can also use a tool called Pandoc (we’ll soon show you) that can convert Markdown into a plethora of formats. The last thing to establish first up is: Markdown is not a programming language. Markdown can’t write programs, it doesn’t have functions and variables and parentheses and slashes everywhere. It’s just for formatting, which is what makes it lovely to work with.
Markdown Quick Overview
Here’s most of Markdown’s syntax, comprising about 99% of the syntax you need to write most things:
# H1 ## H2 ### H3
![Alt text](https://digitaleditions.dlook.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/Markdown1.png "Optional title")
![Alt text](https://digitaleditions.dlook.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/Markdown1.png “Optional title”)
HTML can be inserted straight into a Markdown document, meaning that Markdown doesn’t impose any limitations at the expense of increasing simplicity.
Converting to other Formats
One of the marvels of the free open-source software world is a program called Pandoc. Pandoc – ‘a universal document converter’ – can convert virtually any markup format directly into another. For most people’s purposes, this statement always holds true. And Pandoc’s pet markup format is Markdown, so there is an endless array of conversions options from this format especially.
Pandoc can be used in several ways. Traditionally, it is a console app. You can use its simple commands in your operating system’s terminal/shell/console/command line. But for most people, the command line gives the feeling that the whole computer getting deleted or global mutually assured thermonuclear destruction is only ever two keystrokes away. So Pandoc has quite a selection of GUI tools (some in this list), notably, a slick Alfred GUI for OSX and a plugin for MS Word. But the easiest option to start off is by using Pandoc’s official online GUI here.
Markdown for Web Publishing
Markdown can greatly accelerate your web publishing workflow, like it did for ours. The key point that makes Markdown fantastic for this is that it converts directly into HTML. No longer do you have to laboriously cacoon your Word document in HTML tags.
Our workflow goes one of two ways:
1. Write in Markdown, paste directly into WordPress and publish on WordPress (WordPress supports Markdown).
2. Write in Markdown, convert into HTML, publish on webpage.
Both are extemely hassle-free.
Markdown for Writing in General
Sometimes we use Markdown for writing actual paged documents. The syntax is the same except there are a few features that we use more often like footnotes and references. Our workflow is like:
- Write in Markdown, convert to HTML, link to CSS stylesheet, print using Google Chrome
This requires a bit more know-how. Especially making a print CSS stylesheet. But after you’ve set the stylesheet up once, you can use it again and again to automate the formatting of your documents.
Benefits of Plain Text
We could say a lot more about this because it’s something that we wholly believe in, but we’ll say in just a few bullet points the benefits of using a ‘plain text’ syntax like Markdown versus a rich text format like .docx
- File size: much smaller.
- Faster editing: when you start learning the text editing shortcuts and defining your own, you soon turn into a text editing keyboard ninja.
- Version control: if you know how to do it, you can easily track changes and differences between files.
- Long term document storage: a key issue with using formats specific to ‘proprietary software’ like MSWord is that only those programs can open the file. So you rely on the program’s existence into the indefinite future in order to access your file. Alternatively, Markdown isn’t tied to commercial software, it’s in fact readable just as text, even without processing into HTML.
Best Free Markdown Editors
For such a universally accepted Markdown language, providing a comprehensive list of Markdown editors would defeat the purpose for most people. This is a list of just the few best, free editors for each platform.
- Typora [Windows, OSX, Linux]: In our opinion, this is the best choice. It’s the sleekest by far, among the most cross-platform, the easiest to use, and the most minimal. Type markdown and have it instantly converted to editable formatted content. This provides the best of both worlds of plain text syntax and WYSIWYG.
- MarkdownPad [Windows]: The most full-featured free Windows editor. Live preview, formatting shortcuts e.g. Ctrl+b for bold, custom CSS, etc.
- Markdown Edit [Windows]: a surprisingly competent editor with some features that the other editors don’t have like drag-and-drop image uploads, spell-checking and Pandoc integration.
- Full-featured text editors with Markdown plugins: Notepad++, Sublime Text, Emacs (our pick) and Vim. All fantastic options but can’t be used with Markdown out-of-the-box, you have to install a plugin of some kind.
Markdown is a fantastic tool for anyone who spends time writing (so like, everyone). It’s such a simple, flexible tool that it can be used for any kind of writing as the first crucial step in any content creation workflow. We hope it saves you as much time as it has for us.