What is Markdown?

What is Markdown?

by Gene Wilburn


Several of the products mentioned in “Tablet Writing” and “Distraction-Free Editors” are Markdown editors. Markdown is essentially a way to insert common typographic characters into plain text files to create attributes such as bold, underscore, italic, ordered lists, unordered lists, program coding examples, indented text, and URL links in the final output. It was created by John Gruber who maintains the reference site for Markdown at Daring Fireball.net.

Markdown was originally created as a text-to-HTML converter, allowing bloggers and others to write HTML code without the pickiness of HTML syntax. It has since been extended to general writing, exporting the results not just to HTML, but to various forms of formatted text that can be imported or pasted into word processors. It still works beautifully for blog writing, but it now has more general utility. All of the Markdown editors in these articles offer a preview mode so you can see what the formatted text will look like when printed. Most of the editors can send formatted text to an email address, to a Dropbox account, or directly to a printer.

Markdown is easy to learn and to use. For instance, surrounding text in asterisks *like this* will produce like this in the converted document. To bold text an entry you use two asterisks, e.g. **bold text**. Other attributes are similarly easy.

If you need even deeper features, such as footnotes, tables, and citations, there is a superset of Markdown called MultiMarkdown that you can explore at fletcherpenney.net.

For those of us who like writing with a minimalist editor, Markdown and MultiMarkdown provide the best of both worlds—plain text with word-processing attributes when needed.  ■

Gene Wilburn is a writer/photographer residing in Port Credit, Ontario, Canada. Gene serves as an advisor and nonfiction editor for Small Print Magazine.

For more on using Markdown for writing, see Gene Wilburn’s book Markdown for Writers available for free download from http://genewilburn.com/writing/.  Also available on his website: Recreational Writing and Northern Journey: A Guide to Canadian Folk Music on CD.

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