Brief Introduction to Markdown and Why I Use it For Notes and Other Writing

Yesterday I wrote a post about the Prizmo Go app on the iPhone, which allows you to take a picture of text, copy that text, then send it to your app of choice. For this process I am using an app called Bear , which is a Markdown writing app because it allows me to either append or prepend text to a specific file right from the iOS share menu.

Many of you may have heard of Markdown before but often times it is touted for being revolutionary for writing on the web. For example, this post I am writing in Markdown to post on Squarespace. But I also use Markdown for much of my other writing includes notes, handouts, and the beginning stages of my academic writing.

I won't get into the history of Markdown here but in short it was created as a basically a shortened version of HTML for writing on the web. Markdown is a plain text "language" just meaning that you place certain characters around text that when processed it transforms the text into different formats such as bold, italics, strike, bullet lists, ordered lists, links, and more.

Why I use Markdown for Notes and Other Writing

Since Markdown is a plain text language it allows me to never worry about the formatting until the very end. If you have ever taken notes in Microsoft Word, Evernote, Pages, etc then you have probably encountered the frustration of your notes not formatting how you want and then spending unnecessary time worrying about that. The other problem is getting text out of that app into another place, which, during the copy/paste process often times the format will be different in different apps. Finally, just the look of common writing apps such as Microsoft Word is not the best for a good writing environment.

Many Markdown writing apps today make writing the front and center at what you are doing. It allows you to focus on the words rather than the format. Distractions are at a minimum and you can just sit down and write. For example, as you can see below, I am writing in Bear for this post. The focused writing environment allows me to not worry about anything else except getting words onto the page.

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In addition, Markdown writing apps allow for customizable exports into Microsoft Word files, PDFs, HTML, and other formats right from the app. For most of my writing I use an app called Ulysses (see examples of PDFs below), which has excellent export options for creating beautiful PDFs. If I am writing an academic paper then most of my writing will begin in Ulysses then I will export into a Microsoft Word document for final editing and formatting.

In the early days of Markdown you had to remember all the special syntax for Markdown. Today, in apps like Bear and Ulysses you can use keyboard shortcuts just as you would in Microsoft Word to place the syntax around the words for formatting them. For example "command-B" will bold the text and "command-I" will italicize the text.

In short the two main reasons I write in Markdown involve the apps that support Markdown because they allow me to

  1. Focus on writing
  2. Export into many different formats once the writing process is complete

Brief Markdown Syntax

A post is incomplete without an introduction to the syntax (even though as I stated above you can easily use keyboard shortcuts like you would in a rich text editor).

  • Bold: wrap the text in two asterisks **like this**
  • Italics: wrap the text in a single asterisk *like this*
  • Text for a link is wrapped in brackets with the link in parentheses [like this](http://www.twitter.com/renshaw330)
  • Headers are simply formatted with hashtags so
    • H1 Header = #
    • H2 Header = ##
    • H3 Header = ###
  • Lists just use an asterisk and ordered lists are the number plus a period such as 1.

  • [ ] Those are the basics but for more you can follow this link or go through this tutorial .

Example PDFs of this posted exported from Ulysses in PDF form

  1. Example from the modified Color Form theme
  2. Example from the Novel Cochin theme
  3. Example from a theme that Brian Davidson created
  4. Example from the Columns theme

Hope this helps as both a brief introduction to Markdown and why I use it for note taking and other writings. If you have any further questions feel free to connect with me on Twitter: @renshaw330