Have you ever felt that formatting kills your momentum? Do you sometimes feel like changing the layout of your essays, blog posts, etc. feels a little like extra work that you would rather spend in more useful things? I certainly did. Then, some day, I stumbled upon a formatting language which was so easy to use that even I could remember it and so fast and intuitive, that I just instantly fell in love with it. Meet Markdown:
Markdown has been released about 13 years ago (December 17, 2004) by John Gruber and Aaron Swartz and since has changed the world of many developers, writers and what not. Markdown is a lightweight language for plain text formatting which can easily be converted to other file types like HTML, Open Document Text files, and probably almost anything else. And plain text does mean plain text. You don’t need fancy Office Suits for Markdown formatting. You don’t need an encyclopedia to cycle through programm features until you find the formatting option for headlines. In markdown it is literally just typing the following:
Which will be output as:
That is not only convenient: It’s a real timesaver and productivity enhancer. You don’t need to worry about the style of your document. The compiler will do everything for you. Focus on that novel, article, play, script.
The fact that markdown operates with plain text makes it even better. Have you ever been angry about a new Microsoft Office Suite killing the formatting of your files created with older versions of Word? Markdown does not care. Even if Office Suits are gone, markdown will still be readable, since it’s just plain text. Every computer can output plain text. Just open the text editor of your choice and you’re good to go.
Even better: Plain text is extremely lightweight. Since the file does not contain any unnecessary information about your computer, the exact time you made changes etc. you will have the smallest file size possible. Nowadays we might have Tera Bytes of hard disc space, but when it comes to Dropbox, there is a difference between a 2kB and a 1,5MB text file.
Some websites even make use of markdown natively. Have you ever heard of Reddit, OpenStreetMap or GitHub? They use Markdown to format text which means that there is a high chance of you already knowing the formatting syntax anyway.
The biggest downside to Markdown might be that .md or .markdown files on their own are just plain text files and need some sort of compiler. If you’re not tech savvy and do not care about Command Lines, there are a lot of tools that will do the job for you.
Probably the best tool for windows users is MarkdownPad. It shows you everything you format with markdown right next to your text file so you can instantly check whether you did something wrong or not. Compiling your .md file is even easier. You just choose your output format and it will output your file. Chances are, the free version will offer anything you need. It also offers an upgrade option for commercial use.
Mac, Android & iOS
If you want to work on any of those Operating Systems you can use my all-time favorite markdown editor:
iA Writer. It is a clean and easy to use Markdown editor which offers everything from in-editor previews to compiling your document to Word-Files, PDF, HTML, …. It is great, distraction free and offers a grammar/syntax highlighting feature which makes it a great tool for writers to create.
I’m a Linux-loving person and Elementary OS pretty much made the experience working with linux as beautiful as MacOS without lacking the feature-rich benefits of Linux. For Ubuntu-based Distros you can download Quilter. It literally is the best distraction free Markdown writing tool for Linux and has the benefits of being free and open source software (free as in freedom).
If you know markdown or checked it out after reading this article, feel free to share your experience.