Why I Use Markdown, & You Should Too

Ian Lurie Sep 7 2016

This is a continuation of my rant about lean content and time management. You might want to read those, too.

I once had to convert a Word document to a web page.

Once.

After spending hours deleting mso-style blocks and cleaning up thousands of lines of crap, I swore (and swore, and swore) that I’d never do that again.

So I moved to Markdown. For a writer who publishes mostly to the web, it’s perfect:

Markdown is plain text

Markdown isn’t a format. It’s a standard for formatting plain text files. A really simple standard. A really, really simple standard. Check out how I create a numbered list:

  1. One
  2. Two
  3. Three

That’ll turn into an HTML numbered list or a rich text list.

You use tiny, free, reliable programs (or web-based tools) to convert those files to HTML, Word, PDF, or whatever.

Plain text doesn’t change. Fifty years from now, you’ll still be able to open a plain text file. Until we all have squiggly tentacles on our faces and communicate telepathically, plain text will be a thing.

What about conversion software? Let’s say a tiny black hole swallows up every Markdown converter on the planet. You still have nice, clean plain text. You can search-and-replace the symbols and then format by hand. Also, bloated word processors have more mass. They’ll get sucked in first.

And, since there are scads of tools for editing and previewing Markdown, I wouldn’t worry about it.

You control your destiny

With Markdown, you don’t entrust your writing to 50,000 corporate shareholders, the companies they control and whatever features they “sunset” or add.

You control your destiny because, yes, you guessed it: It’s plain text.

It exports to clean HTML

When I export to HTML, Markdown becomes super-clean HTML. It’s got headings, smart quotes, numbering, the whole shebang. Truth is, I don’t even export it. All I do is click “Copy HTML to clipboard,”:

Copy and paste

And then the magic happens. Most Markdown converters are very clever about generating HTML. By “most” I mean every one I’ve tried. This:

Markdown. Simple, right?

The Markdown tool generates all of the HTML elements, including lists, and converts quotes to smart quotes (I love that). So the Markdown because purty HTML:

HTML from Markdown, just like that

HTML from Markdown, just like that

Which, after a cut-and-paste becomes the blog post you’re reading.

It’s soooo easy

You’ll learn Markdown 10x faster than you learned MS Word. Try the tutorial. Then try one of the tools:

If you want to nerd out and have the best control, try my favorite toolset. I walk through the setup process on SlideShare.

Markdown is a cinch! Learn it. You’ll thank me later.

Should I write a tutorial?

I can write a tutorial if you want. There are so many out there; I figured I’d hold off. Let me know in the comments.

3 Comments

  1. Sincere thanks for these. I had no idea markdown editors that exported to HTML were available.

    I’ll be spending the rest of my day figuring out how to package this up for clients who perpetually copy/paste from Word into our CMS.

    • Fight the good fight.

  2. MD user since two years, beside the “copy to html” of Marked2, I use the MarkdowToWord site (http://www.markdowntoword.com/) to convert my MD content and insert them in my company’s template.
    Yes, no more using Word, except for pasting images in the final document.

    By the way, I code with Atom.io but also use this open source write to write in MD.

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