September 26, 2015
The Lowdown on Markdown
When I first came across the concept of
markdown I thought to myself, “Oh great, another language to learn”. What I didn’t realize was how easy it was and how it would forever change the way I write. No longer am I stuck writing in word processing apps that auto-correct and format code or anything foreign in a weird way. This post is meant to be a resource of what markdown is and how to use it in your day to day workflow. I promise you that once you learn this simple language you will forever resort to it in your own writings. Warning: Apps like Microsoft Word or Google Docs will make you cringe from here forward.
To give you something to easily refer back to, I’ve created a small site to use as a resource for all things markdown. You can refer to it by bookmarking the page directly.
Popular Markdown Editors (My Favorites)
Editors much like code editors are specific to the markdown language. You can use a lot of them to write markdown from scratch or just use a built-in WYSIWYG editor. Some apps offer different features than others. I prefer the lightweight apps that are more of a glorified text editor.
I just started using iA writer having switched from Whiskey. I really like it’s autoformatting and indenting as I write. In version 3 you can select between modes based on the time of day. There’s a feature for focusing that allows you to get lost in your words (in a good way). With different modes and different preferences to set you may think that the application is bulky but at the heart of it, I have found it is one of the smoothest markdown editors I’ve come across.
iA Writer isn’t free but I feel it’s worth the price of admission. With integrated iCloud support, you can be sure your documents are available anywhere you are.
Whiskey is a no no-nonsense markdown editor created by Sam Soffes who now works as a freelancer in California. He has made quite a few iOS apps you have probably heard of Like Hipstamatic, Cheddar (which he sold), and Coins.
The editor features different formatting modes just like iA Writer but is still in beta. Sam is still at work making the editor perfect but if you really like a lean solution this is a great pick. For a limited time, Whiskey is available for free during beta.
Desk is a hybrid type of text editor that offers a little more under the hood to any writer. Much like Whiskey and iA Writer, Desk is very customizable and offers different options to tailor your specific needs. The big difference with Desk is the WYSIWYG editor that you can use for inline formating. If you’re new to markdown and you need to save time before learning the language entirely Desk is a great solution to sort of teach you how things work without having the knowledge at hand.
Markdown in the real world
I use markdown mostly offline. Since I author a lot of blog posts it’s my primary tool to get content from my computer to Web-Crunch. I really hate writing within a web interface. Something about it just doesn’t feel comfortable but your own results may vary.
All that said, I don’t like to have to later convert my markdown into another format to publish it on this site. Since I use WordPress as my CMS of choice, I’m able to use markdown the entire time to author my content. This works based on the popular plugin called Jetpack from the Automatic team(the makers of WordPress). Simply flipping a switch inside the plugin settings makes anything I write a breeze to upload and preview as already formatted content.
Working with Code
Markdown is smart but it’s not always a be all end all solution. For a lot of my blog posts, I write custom code related to the specific topic in mention. Markdown doesn’t recognize every type of code but you can get away with formatting any code using the
” characters. If you have multiple lines of code then you use multiple
” characters at the beginning and end of your code block. I dive further with this in the Markdown resource I linked at the beginning of this article.
I’m mentioning all this because code is tough with WordPress and Markdown. It’s the only thing I have to go back and manually edit which I’m ok with. To do this effectively I use a combination of markdown and classes based on the very cool
prism.js library which automatically formats your code based on the class name you specify. Read more about
Markdown for the win
It’s safe to say that markdown is here for the win. While it’s used mostly around the design and development community, I can see it’s used expanding into day to day applications for anyone needing to document and type of content. I promise you if you take a few minutes to learn some of the key concepts you’ll adopt this in your routine and save tons of time without waiting for bulky apps to load or even going through the dull progress of logging into apps like Evernote if you choose to author your content online.