You’ve probably heard of Markdown. Maybe you’ve heard the name for years. Perhaps you just encountered it. But do you know what it is? Are you using it? You should be. Here are six good reasons to use Markdown. There are no good reasons not to.
If you don’t know what Markdown is, here’s the introduction from the Markdown project page:
“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).
Thus, ‘Markdown’ is two things: (1) a plain-text formatting syntax; and (2) a software tool, written in Perl, that converts the plain text formatting to HTML.”
We’re here to discuss no. 1, using Markdown whenever you’re typing to format your text – whether or not you plan to post that text on the Web. Installing it allows you to directly post Markdown documents as blog posts or Web pages, but that’s up to you.
One of its key strengths is that you can use HTML in Markdown. If there’s something you can’t do in Markdown, or if you can’t remember the Markdown syntax, you can switch back and forth freely between HTML and Markdown within one document. It understands both.
You don’t have to have Markdown installed on your site in order to use it. It’s amazingly useful just as a writing language. Even if you don’t have to convert to HTML at all, it’s still an appealing way to format plain text without having to deal with Microsoft Word or another goofy rich-text editor.
But if you write for the Web, or you work with people who do, you just have to try it. Here’s why.
1. Easy to use
The markdown syntax is so simple you can barely call it “syntax.” If you can use an emoticon, you can write Markdown for sure.
The simple formatting saves a significant amount of time over hand-crafted HTML tags, and is often faster than using a word processor or WYSIWYG editor. It speeds up the workflows of writers of all ilk, from bloggers to novelists.
Markdown translates quickly to perfectly-formed HTML. No missing closing tags, no improperly nested tags, no blocks left without containers. You also get 100% less cruft than exporting HTML from Microsoft Word. There’s no styling inline, nothing that will otherwise break a site’s design or mess with the XSLT formatting for PDF output. In short, it’s foolproof.
Your documents are cross-platform by nature. You can edit them in any text-capable application on any operating system. Transporting files requires no zipping or archiving, and the filesize is as small as it can possibly get.
Output your documents to a wide array of formats. Convert to HTML for posting on the web, rich text for sending emails or importing into a layout program for final arrangement or any number of other proprietary formats.
6. Fits any workflow
You can make Markdown work with any workflow. It can speed up just about any writing-related process with very little setup. It can also be scripted all to hell, if you want, because plain text is the most flexible of any format known to computer-kind.