Most writers I know fall into one of two camps. They either use Microsoft Word, or they use Google Docs. And I'm sorry to say both are terrible, especially in a world where there’s Markdown.
For as much as I love Word — I’ve had Microsoft Office on nearly every computer I’ve owned going back to the early 2000s — I rarely use it, and when I do, it's usually because someone sent me a DOCX file, not because I want to. And the same could be said about Google Docs.
For the past five years, I’ve done nearly all of my writing, both personal and professional, in Markdown editors like Ulysses and IA Writer. And if you write for a living, I think you should too.
What the hell is Markdown?
You can think of Markdown as like a coding language for writers. Markdown uses inline characters like underscores, brackets, and asterisks to format text. If you’re at all familiar with basic HTML, it’s not dissimilar. But unlike HTML, which was created for formatting webpages, Markdown was built with writers in mind.
For example, to bold or italicize some text in HTML you might type:
<b>This is some bold text</b> or <i>this is some italicize text</i>
Nothing too complicated here, but what if you want to add a link to your favorite blog? In HTML you’d have to write:
<a href="https://ramblingpolymath.com" target=blank>This is a link to my favorite blog</a>
It’s easy to see why HTML never really caught on with writers. Even if you needed to know HTML, you probably weren’t writing whole stories in it. If you were, I’m so sorry.
This is where Markdown comes in. Markdown has a much simpler syntax, the core of which you can learn in about 10 minutes. If you want to bold or italicize something in Markdown, you’d simply type:
**This is some bold text** or *this is some italicized text*
Want to add a link? Easy:
[This is a link to my favorite blog](https://ramblingpolymath.com)
Want to make an unordered list? In Markdown, it’d look like this:
- Lists - are - pretty - darn - simple
And headers are even simpler:
# Header 1 ## Header 2 ### Header 3
The idea behind Markdown is make it fast and easy to format your work without having to take your hands off the keyboard. No searching through the ribbon bar in Word or diving into the file or edit menu in search of some hidden tool.
Ready to learn Markdown? Check out the official guide here.
That Markdown magic
Markdown’s super simple syntax — say that three times fast — is only half the reason I think it’s a better option for serious writers. The other is because documents written in Markdown can be exported in practically any format you want: rich text, as a Word Doc, PDF, or HTML.
If your job requires formatting your work in HTML before pasting it into a web form, Markdown can be an absolute blessing, believe me.
Many Markdown editors even include customizable templates which allow you to export your documents in a ready to publish format. Ulysses, my preferred editor, even has templates for automating APA, MLA, and Chicago style.
What’s more, many content management systems like Ghost.org support both basic and extended Markdown syntax.
The right tool for the job
To be clear, I'm not saying that Word or Google Docs aren't useful. Neither is inherently bad, and there are plenty of reasons why you'd want to use one of them over Markdown.
Collaboration is a big reason. If you you need to work on the same document as somone else at the same time, Google Docs or Office 365 are honestly hard to beat. The same goes if you need to make a brochure or a birthday card.
But if what you're really trying to do is put words on a page, I'd argue that Markdown is the way to go. Once you get the hang of the syntax, it’s much faster than formating your document manually.
Finding an editor
Regardless of whether you’re rocking a Mac, PC or Linux box there are no shortage of options when it comes to Markdown editors. Here are three of my personal favorites:
- Ulysses The best Markdown editor for the Apple Ecosystem — Mac and iOS ($49.99/yr)
- IA Writer The best cross-platform editor I’ve used — PC, Mac, iOS and Android ($29.99)
- Typora The best free Markdown editor I’ve tried — PC, Mac and Linux (Free while in beta)
Looking for something else? Oberlo curated a huge list of Markdown editors worth checking out.
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What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments below:
- What is your prefered word processor?
- Do you use Markdown?
- If so, what editor are you using and why?