Markdown provides a convenient way to add formatting to a plain text document, while leaving it in plain text. It’s simpler and faster than adding HTML markup, and doesn’t have the lock-in of using something like Microsoft Word.
The syntax was created by John Gruber way back in 2004, and seems to become more widely used every year, especially in blogs and forums. It’s an easy and efficient way to create online content, and has a number of benefits for writers and bloggers.
Because Markdown is just plain text, you can create it with any text editor. That’s part of its appeal. But using an editor designed for writing in Markdown has a lot of advantages, depending on your needs.
Here are some features you might expect to find in a Markdown editor:
- Syntax highlighting and a preview pane to show you how your final document will look.
- Familiar keyboard shortcuts, like command-B for bold.
- Export and conversion features that easily transform your document from Markdown to HTML, PDF, DOCX or a number of other formats. Some Markdown editors can publish directly to WordPress, Medium and more.
- A distraction-free mode that takes advantage of features like full-screen editing, dark mode and typewriter mode.
- Features that appeal to writers, including word count, readability scores, and versions.
- A document library to organize your content and sync between devices. Some editors have an iOS version so you can keep working while you’re on the move.
- Advanced formatting, including tables and mathematical expressions.
There’s a rich landscape of Mac options, and the best choice for me may not be the best choice for you. Not all Markdown editors will support all of those features, so the trick is to find the editor with the features you need.
So let’s have a good look at the options, then we’ll make some recommendations.
Looking for more on Markdown? Check out these great links:
- The Best Markdown Editor for Windows
- Grab Our Free Printable Markdown Cheat Sheet
- Make the Most of Markdown in WordPress
- Spicing up Your Emails with Markdown
- 7 Atom Add-ons for Running Code and Previewing Changes
- Creating PDFs from Markdown with Pandoc and LaTeX
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1. Use Your Favorite Text Editor
If you already have a favorite Mac text editor, you might prefer to use that for writing Markdown as well. Of course, Markdown is really just text, so any text editor will do. But many text editors have additional support for Markdown, either natively or through an extension or plugin. These may give syntax highlighting, a preview pane and other features.
Here are some examples:
- BBEdit 11 has a Markdown Extension Package that includes helper commands, transformation commands, paste as Markdown and MultiMarkdown support.
- Sublime Text 2 can be turned into a full-featured Markdown editor. We show you how here.
- TextMate 2 has a Markdown bundle that includes features like convert, preview, cheat sheet and “generate output and open in browser”.
- Chocolat provides Markdown syntax highlighting and preview out of the box.
- Atom supports Markdown out of the box, with features like syntax highlighting and preview. This functionality can be expanded by several community-generated packages, including Markdown-Writer, Markdown-Scroll-Sync and Markdown-Format.
- Brackets has a Markdown extension with syntax highlighting and a preview pane.
- Textastic includes Markdown syntax highlighting and preview out of the box.
- MacVim has a Vim-Markdown plugin that features syntax highlighting and folding.
- GNU Emacs has a Markdown Mode for Emacs package that includes shortcut keys and syntax highlighting.
- Cost: $44.99, or subscribe via SetApp
- Demo: Yes
- Other platforms: iOS
The ultimate writing app for Mac, iPad and iPhone.
Ulysses is a full-featured Markdown app designed for writers. It’s designed to keep you focused on the writing task at hand, organize all your projects in one place, provide comprehensive writing features in a simple interface, and export your documents beautifully in a number of formats.
Distraction-free features include typewriter mode, dark themes, and full-screen editing. All of your documents can be accessed in a single library, whether they’re contained in Ulysses’ database or in files elsewhere. Filters can be used to create smart folders that update according to the flexible criteria you specify.
Writers will appreciate features like word and character count, writing goals that indicate when you reach the desired word count, notes and attachments for your reference information, and keywords. You can export your documents to a variety of text and rich text formats, HTML, ePub, PDF and DOCX. Or you can publish directly to WordPress or Medium.
My take: I purchased Ulysses on the day it was released, and I’ve been using it ever since. It has become my writing tool of choice. It’s not cheap, but it’s been worth every penny. If you do a lot of writing, professionally or otherwise, take a good look at this app.
- Cost: $9.99
- Demo: Yes
- Other platforms: iOS (coming)
The programmer’s notebook
Quiver is designed for developers, and can combine text, code, Markdown and LaTeX in a single note. It’s more than just a document editor: it’s a complete reference library for your documentation.
The editor gives you syntax highlighting and a live preview of your rendered Markdown, and offers cloud syncing, team collaboration, version control and backup. Programmers will appreciate code editing and the ability to write scripts to integrate Quiver with your other tools.
The document library can organize your notes by tag or notebook (including shared notebooks), and has instant, full-text search. Images are saved locally with notes, and displayed inline.
My take: Quiver is the ultimate Markdown (and code and LaTeX) editor for devs. Its document library can be synced to your other computers and devices via Dropbox. It’s a geekier alternative to Ulysses, designed with a completely different audience in mind, at an affordable price point.
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