If you write much for the web, here’s a quick tip: use markdown.
What is Markdown?
It’s just plain text with a few handy, easy to remember patterns that make writing for the web way easier.
What Does Markdown Do?
When you write for the web, everything needs to be converted in some way or another into html (Hyper-Text Markup Language). Html is also just text, but it’s messy. To get something to appear in italics, for example, you need to wrap it in emphasis tags, like such:
<em>This is in italics.</em>
And who wants to be looking at all those tags? Or, for people who just want to write, you don’t want to be cluttering up your thoughts with remembering which tags do what.
Enter markdown. The same italics is accomplished simply by using an asterisk before and after:
*This is in italics.*
Markdown will convert it for you when you save it to html. Then you just copy and paste the html into whatever web page you’re working on. Done!
For lists, it’s just putting an asterisk (for bullet lists) or a number with a period (for numerical lists) in front of each list item. So:
* First item * Second item
- First item
- Second item
1. First item 2. Second item
- First item
- Second item
For titles, just put a pound sign in front. The number of pound signs indicates how far down in your title structure you want to go.
# Primary title ## Secondary title ### Third-level title
And so on.
Need a link? Just put the text you want to link inside square brackets and the url you want to link to in parenthesis immediately after, like so:
And you get: Caspar’s Website.
If you want to write about code, you can just pop any of it into a line beginning with 4 spaces and markdown generates a code block for you.
For a complete list of what you can do with markdown, I recommend John Gruber’s write-up.
So where can you get a Markdown editor?
Here’s the good news. You don’t really need a special markdown editor. Any text editor or word processor will do. If you’re on a Windows machine, use Notepad. If you’re using MS Word, just save to a plain text file. On a Mac, just use Textedit. Markdown is just plain text.
At the point you want to convert it to html, however you’ll need a markdown converter. Fortunately there’s a free one online where you can just paste your plain text in and out pops all the html you need.
If you’re writing in WordPress, you have a couple options. On WordPress.com your blog has markdown built in. Just enable it from your dashboard. If you have your own WordPress hosting and you’re using Jetpack, you can enable markdown there. Or, if not, install Steven Harris’s WP Markdown Plugin and you’re good to go.
But, if you find yourself writing in markdown all the time and you use a Mac, I find that the Byword App is worth the 12 bucks. Best text editor and writer’s tool out there for Mac, if you ask me. (I’m not getting paid to say that. I just use it every day.)