One of the things I hate about most editors and word processors is that the process of formatting text can really become a distraction from the task at hand, i.e., writing! First you have to select the text. Then you have to find (and press) the appropriate tool bar/menu bar option(s). The amount of time it takes is precisely the amount of time you’re not writing. 2 seconds here, 5 seconds there, and with a long article, you’ve just spent 30min messing about when you could’ve been writing, and maybe even finished your article up. The whole thing’s a royal PITA, IMO, and that’s the polite and edited version.
Enter Markdown. Markdown requires no menu options or tool bars to click. Your hands never leave the keyboard. A few punctuation marks in appropriate places can have you formatting text like a ninja in no time. Honestly, this entire article has been written using Markdown.
So what is this crazy magical thing called Markdown? Let’s dive in and find out!
Magical Markdown–an Introduction
Markdown is nothing more or less than plain text, which, with the help of special software, converts the Markdown symbols to their HTML equivalents. It can be read by any editor or word processor on any device. It’s as suitable to the desktop computer as it is to a small phone or tablet. Ultimately, it does need some sort of program to convert the plain text into HTML, of which there are dozens, perhaps hundreds. The Jetpack plugin in WordPress has such a module built in. Textedit on the Mac supports Markdown, and a great little Windows text editor called Write Monkey does so as well, with the additional benefit that the opening splash screen always provides a laugh to help you begin your writing journey. It’s available from:
the WriteMonkey Website .
For those using screen readers, please download the 2.7 version, as Version 3 is inaccessible.
Markdown has been modified and added to over the years, with options being added for various use case scenarios. Github, for example, has additions to format code. Wiki Markdown is famously used in Wikipedia. Writemonky uses something called Markdown7 by default, and I find it perfectly acceptable for writing.
This tutorial will be divided into three lessons:
- Formatting text;
- Lists; and
- Creating links.
Please note that this in no way is intended to be a comprehensive Markdown tutorial. Its emphasis is on those features most writers use frequently. Please note also that while Markdown often has several ways of accomplishing the same, or much the same thing, I’ve chosen simply to include those which I find easiest and/or which do more. Heading levels, for example, can be created using both number signs as well as a combination of equal signs and hyphens, but because the number signs can make six (6) heading levels, while the equal sign and dash combination can only make two levels, I’ve deliberately omitted the latter.
Each lesson will be accompanied by its source file which can be downloaded and viewed in order to clarify concepts. The lesson pages show the output; the source file shows the magical Markdown symbols that make it all happen. Screen reader users, please set your punctuation to at least most symbols, and all symbols might well be best in order to derive the most benefit from these lessons. A Braille display, if available, might also be helpful to some.
Text Formatting in Markdown
In this portion of the tutorial, we’ll be discussing the various types of formatting which can be applied to text and paragraphs. These include:
- Making paragraphs;
- Creating line breaks, as in poetry;
- Creating level headings 1-6;
- Text alignment (really HTML as Markdown doesn’t have the facility).
Paragraphs and Line Breaks
- Making a paragraph is done simply by leaving a blank line, just as in the majority of text editors/word processors. Please note that Markdown generally strips out the blank lines (boo, hiss!).
Line breaks, such as in writing an address or lines of poetry, are created by ending a line with two (2) spaces.
This is line 1
This is line 2.
Creating Outline Level Headings 1-6
Outline headings are created by preceding the heading text with number signs/pound signs/hash signs (#) followed by a space. The number of hash signs preceding the text dictates the heading level, thus, one (1) hash sign is heading level 1, 2 a heading level 2, etc. Don’t forget the spaces between the hash signs and the text, but absolutely don’t put spaces between the hash signs. Some people put the same number of hash signs at the end of the text as well for the sake of readability, but this is entirely optional. If you do so, don’t forget to put a space between the end of the text and the hash signs. There are numerous examples in this article’s source file of various headers. See if you can identify at least some of them.
In HTML, there are three levels of text emphasis:
- Italic text;
- Bold text; and
- Bold italic text.
Markdown gives a choice of two (2) characters for emphasizing text, which are the asterisk (*) and underscore/ underline (_) characters. I suggest you pick your favorite and use it consistently, because using combinations of these characters doesn’t work well.
The levels of emphasis are created by surrounding the emphasized text with a varying number of emphasis characters–1 character creates italicized text, 2 characters create bold text, and three characters create bold italicized text, as follows.
This is italicized text.
This text is italicized as well.
The word “italicized” in each of these examples is surrounded by either 1 asterisk or underline character, with no spaces between the emphasis character and the text to be emphasized.
Bold text surrounds the text to be emphasized with either 2 asterisks or 2 underlines.
The word “bold” is bold because it’s surrounded by 2 asterisks at the beginning and 2 at the end.
The word “bold” is bold because it’s surrounded by 2 underlines at the beginning and 2 at the end.
Bold italic text is made simply by surrounding the text to be emphasized with three (3) emphasis characters, with no spaces between the emphasis characters and the text to be rendered as bold italic.
This text is bold italic using 3 stars.
This text is —bold italic– using 3 hyphens.
This text is bold italic using 3 underscores.
The bad news is that Markdown doesn’t really have a great way of aligning text. This should work in most cases:
This is centered
To center a heading, use:
To align text flush right, just type style=”text-align: right;”>text
Don’t forget the paragraph marks or headings as the case may be.
To make a quoted line, preceed the text with a greater than sign (shifted period >) and then a space. To nest quotes put more spaces after the greater than sign.
This is quoted text.
This is a nested quote (greater than followed by 4 spaces).
Download the source file of this article:
Please note: your browser may open it instead of asking you where to save it.