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A Beginner’s Perspective on Markdown Syntax

by Kerry Dawson

Before I began contributing to the Daily Mac View, I hadn’t so much as heard of Markdown syntax. All my writing up until that point had been done in desktop word processors, shared Google Docs and various spiral ringed notebooks (never to be abandoned). My published work was either in print or on blogs, leaving me no need to explore the mechanics involved in converting written text into fully formatted articles on the web. I figured that a considerable amount of sorcery was probably applied to the text using the complicated HTML tags I knew existed but didn’t really understand.

Needless to say, I was pretty relieved when I was introduced to Markdown. As it turns out, you don’t need a magic wand and a computer science background to publish your written content on the web. All you need is a few minutes to learn some basic syntax and to choose an editor, and you’re up and running. I was pretty surprised—as I suspect many writers are—at just how simple the whole process is.

Markdown: What’s the Big Deal?

First and foremost, using Markdown syntax is the easiest way to outfit your text for publication on the web. Instead of writing and saving your documents in various word processors and cloud applications, which define your formatting and confine it to those programs, you can write in one of the many markdown editors. By doing so, you alleviate the need to export your work and adjust your text formatting for specific websites when publication opportunities arise down the line.

Before learning Markdown, I assumed that if I wanted to publish my work on the web, I would have to export my text and painstakingly code each article for formatting before sending them out. And I was intimidated by the prospect of learning HTML which would make that process possible. Now I write all my articles in Markdown, relieved to know they will look exactly as I intended when converted to HTML on whatever websites they may end up on.

When you consider the alternatives, you realize just how useful Markdown is. Imagine producing written content and coding it with HTML at the same time. Although I’m certain there exists a population of people who do this, I find it hard enough to string together ideas and maintain momentum when I write; never mind manufacturing intricate tags and inserting them correctly all the while.

Markdown creates an environment in which you never get bogged down in minutia. It’s fluid, distraction-free writing. And since the syntax is so lightweight and so easy to learn, you can write at whatever frequency you can muster without being held up by coding intricacies.

Getting Up and Running

If you’re new to Markdown, you won’t be for long. With the wide range of resources at your disposal, getting oriented can be simply a matter of minutes. After my first Markdown Google search, I landed on a web editor for Markdown called Dillinger. Dillinger presents a dual pane format: one in which you outfit your text with the basic markdown syntax, and the other in which you can see the formatted article as it will appear on the web. Take a look below.

If you think you will be doing a lot of writing in markdown, however, there are plenty of desktop applications to choose from. Many of these have already been reviewed on the Daily Mac View and provide a range of benefits beyond the ability to write and edit offline.

Ulysses , Byword, and even a new cross-platform editor called Haroopad are all good choices but it’s still important to know what kind of features to look for when you’re shopping around.

The dual pane format with live preview is very efficient, yet it’s not common across all editors. Importing and exporting options are important too. The more inclusive these are, the more freedom you have in bringing in content from various locations such as Google Drive, Dropbox and One Drive and sending out your documents in various file formats (PDF, Markdown, HTML). Another consideration is whether or not your editor includes a database for your articles (Ulysses does a good job of incorporating this feature). And beyond all these factors, many editors offer a range of other features to enhance the actual writing experience.

But don’t get overwhelmed; most of this is preference. Ultimately, Markdown syntax has a gentle learning curve and virtually any editor will get the job done.

The Big Picture

Although learning a markup language can seem like a daunting task for many writers, it’s an investment you ought to make. Luckily, lightweight and easy to learn syntaxes like Markdown are available. And as more and more applications begin to support Markdown syntax, you will continue to be liberated as a writer with the ability to nest your articles in different places for different reasons.

Say you want to save your Markdown formatted documents to Evernote as a part of a folder or project. You’ll quickly notice that Evernote does not support Markdown out of the box, so what do you do? Simple, download a browser extension like Markdown Here and in a single click you can see your fully formatted articles in Evernote. Combine this tool with a Markdown editor that exports to Evernote and you open up all kinds of possibilities.

As Markdown continues to gain in popularity, new apps and browser extensions are sure to emerge, bridging any gaps between your intentions with Markdown and its ability to serve your needs.

Although I felt intimidated by web writing at the outset, Markdown changed my perspective quickly and for the better. So if you’re new to this markup language, don’t shy away. I’m glad I didn’t.

Contributed exclusively to the Daily Mac View

By: Dylan Smart

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