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Markdown is a quick and easy way to add formatting to a document. Most articles on SitePoint (including this one) started life that way. In fact, all submissions must be posted in Markdown format. Why is that?
Consider using Markdown for your own blog or website. You’ve organised some hosting—perhaps through SiteGround, our preferred web host—and installed WordPress. Now you have the task of filling your blog with quality content. Markdown promises to make the process faster and simpler.
I use Markdown a lot, and that use is increasing. There’s something about it that I enjoy, that makes writing easier and faster. I write in it professionally using Ulysses, take notes in it using Bear, and I’m even considering outlining in it using Outlinely. It’s becoming a big part of my online life, and I’m not alone.
What benefits does Markdown bring to writers and bloggers? How can it improve your writing workflow? What does it have to do with WordPress? Read on to find out.
What Is Markdown?
Markdown is not new. It was created by John Gruber way back in 2004. Since then it has really caught on—it’s key feature of many new apps, and is used by default on Reddit, GitHub, StackOverflow and a number of CMSs.
It’s a format for writing for the web. In fact, at its foundation, Markdown is a faster, cleaner way to create HTML. Well, not all of HTML, but the subset of it commonly used when writing posts and articles.
Gruber introduces the concept with these words:
Markdown is a text-to-HTML conversion tool for web writers. Markdown allows you to write using an easy-to-read, easy-to-write plain text format, then convert it to structurally valid XHTML (or HTML).
Rather than using complex (and ugly, hard-to-read) markup language, Markdown uses punctuation characters, with the goal of making writing (and reading) easier.
Here are a few examples, and you can learn more from John Gruber’s Syntax page.
# This is a H1 header
## This is a H2 header
### This is a H3 header
This is *emphasized text* and this is **strong text**.
- This is a line from an unordered list.
1. This is a line from an ordered list.
> This is a blockquote.
- John Gruber’s Markdown Project page.
- CommonMark, a strongly defined, highly compatible specification of Markdown
How Can Markdown Benefit Writers and Bloggers?
It’s good for writers. It’s good for editors. It really can make a positive difference to your online writing. Here’s how.
Markdown makes writing for the web faster.
Here’s one thing that writers love: When you write in Markdown you don’t have to move fingers off the keyboard to add formatting. Everything you need is right under your fingers, and they can just keep on flying.
It requires less keystrokes than HTML, and is easier to learn than HTML. And because it’s simpler, there’s less to break—you won’t have missing closing tags or improperly formed HTML. All of those are good things. Your writing will be faster and less distracted.
Markdown makes reading content easier.
Easy-to-read content is great for writers and editors alike. I edited HTML articles for years. The content can get lost in the code, but you do sort of get used to it.
Markdown is much better. In fact, that’s it’s purpose—it’s primarily designed to make reading formatted web documents easier.
John Gruber explains:
Markdown is intended to be as easy-to-read and easy-to-write as is feasible. Readability, however, is emphasized above all else… To this end, Markdown’s syntax is comprised entirely of punctuation characters, which punctuation characters have been carefully chosen so as to look like what they mean. E.g., asterisks around a word actually look like *emphasis*. Markdown lists look like, well, lists. Even blockquotes look like quoted passages of text, assuming you’ve ever used email.
Compare the HTML and Markdown below to see what I mean.
<h2>This Is a Second-Level Heading</h2> <p>Here is a paragraph with <strong>bold</strong> and <em>italic</em> text.</p> <p>And here is an ordered list:</p> <ol> <li>First item</li> <li>Second item</li> <li>Third item</li> </ol>
##This Is a Second-Level Heading
Here is a paragraph with **bold** and *italic* text.
And here is an ordered list:1. First item 2. Second item 3. Third item
Markdown improves the writing workflow.
Writers should separate form and content. In other words, you shouldn’t be concerned about the final appearance of your content while you’re still crunching out words. One thing at a time is best practice.
Markdown’s simple syntax really helps with this. Lists, block quotes and emphasis almost write themselves, and you don’t get distracted from the task at hand.
Markdown allows you to use plain text, the most flexible file format that exists. And you can choose from a wide variety of writing software, and Markdown’s simplicity allows all sorts of automation and scripting opportunities.
Markdown is portable and future-proof.
When you write in Markdown, your documents are automatically cross-platform. You can copy from one app and paste into another regardless of the operating system or platform. There is no lock in, and you can convert Markdown to just about any format you like.
And it’s future-proof. Unlike your Word or Pages document, you’ll probably be able to open plain text in a decade or a century. It’s not a proprietary file format that will be discontinued or updated until it’s unrecognisable.
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