Why I Use Markdown to Write for the Web

One of my favorite single-purpose apps – Brett Terpstra’s Marked – is on-sale through Christmas. Marked allows you to preview documents written in Markdown as you write them, so that you can see what they will look like online. Each time you save the document, Marked automatically updates the HTML preview. When I’m using a dual-monitor to write for the web, I have Marked open on the second monitor as I write on the first.

When I tweeted about the Marked sale, my friend Matt Stauffer made me laugh with his reply:

He then asked me to write about why Markdown is practical. Over the last 18 months or so, I’ve become a Markdown convert. Here’s why and how I use Markdown.

What Is Markdown?

First, a brief description of Markdown, from its creator John Gruber:

Markdown is a text-to-HTML conversion tool for web writers. Markdown allows you to write using an easy-to-read, easy-to-write plain text format, then convert it to structurally valid XHTML (or HTML).

If you, like me, were introduced to the Internet during the era of plain text emails and Usenet newsgroups, Markdown looks very, very similar to the rudimentary formatting used back then. Here are some simple examples. The following, written in Markdown:

##Heading  2
This text is **bold** and *italic*.  
I’m linking to [my website](http://www.mikehickerson.com). 
 
>; Ooh, a clever quote. 

becomes this when converted to HTML:

Heading 2

This text is bold and italic.

I’m linking to my website.

;

Ooh, a clever quote.

Here’s the full list of Markdown syntax. The variant of Markdown called MultiMarkdown allows you to do even more.

Why Do I Use Markdown?

Simplicity: Markdown uses plain text files, which means I can edit them using any app that writes and edits plain text. I’m not locked into a specific app, and I can be certain that my formatting will remain correct if I switch from one app to another. Further, because Markdown formatting is more compact and less intrusive than standard HTML, I can focus more easily on the text.

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