How Markdown Can Help Bloggers Save Time (And Their Sanity)
By Andy Obusek
Whether blogging is the heart and soul of your business or just another channel through which you communicate to your audience, you know it’s a great way to keep your community and email list engaged.
But as with anything you do, there are ways of making the process more time-efficient, and less frustrating.
Now, you may have some not-so-fun memories of times when you’ve wrestled with formatting a blog post in your platform’s WYSIWYG (“What you see is what you get”) editor to get it to look just right. Or maybe you’re the type who spends hours writing HTML to achieve the perfect formatting, only to find there’s a quotation mark that’s throwing everything off.
Regardless of the approach you take when it comes to adding posts to your blog platform, there’s an easier way to write rich text, such as headlines, hyperlinks, and italics, in your blog posts. And it’s called Markdown.
What is Markdown?
According to 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).”
In other words, Markdown is a formatting language that defines how to style the text (as a headline, bulleted list, italicized text, etc.). And it works in blog platforms, as well as other productivity apps like ToDo, Evernote, and even our email newsletter app, Curate.
Often, bloggers have two options for creating rich text on the web: either writing the actual styled HTML, or using a WYSIWYG editor. While writing HTML itself is certainly possible, it requires a detailed knowledge of how to program a web page. And while most blogging platforms feature WYSIWYG editors to create rich web text content, they can be frustrating, time consuming and error-prone.
But with Markdown, you gain an easier to way to write and read your posts. And best of all? Anyone can do it.
Markdown makes it possible to include a variety of rich text in your post, like headlines, blockquotes, lists, code blocks, horizontal rules, links, images, and more. Here are a few ways you can use Markdown:
To define a headline, start the line with a # sign:
# Headline Text
To italicize text, surround it with asterisks, like:
To bold text, surround it with two asterisks on each side:
Here’s a before-and-after example of writing Markdown:
You can also designate hyperlinks in your text. Here’s how you would write it in Markdown:
And here’s what it would look like when you’ve published your blog post:
Do note that the visual styling may vary across different blogging platforms and apps, so be sure to do your research to discover what Markdown is supported and how it will display.
While some tools support Markdown by default, others require a plugin. In WordPress, for example, WP-Markdown is a popular plugin for supporting posts written in Markdown. And it’s super simple to use.
All you have to do is write your content in Markdown, and click “Save.” Behind the scenes, WP-Markdown will recognize that you have formatted your text with Markdown, and will automatically translate it to the proper HTML according to your theme.
How it improves the blogging experience
Any process or skill that brings efficiency to a task is a good thing. When you use Markdown, you’ll find:
It’s faster to write posts
Once you get the hang of how Markdown works, you’ll be able to write richly formatted blog posts much faster.
As shown by the examples above, it’s less complicated than writing HTML code. It’s also much faster than using a WYSIWYG editor. As a writer, you know that any time spent not working on your blog post is time wasted. That includes having to move your hand to your mouse to click a button in a WYSIWYG editor to do something like add bold treatment or create a bulleted list. When you write in Markdown, it speeds up the process since you can add these styles directly in your content.
It’s easier to read than HTML
If you’ve ever written rich blog content directly in HTML or tried to review the HTML generated by a WYSIWYG editor, you know how hard it can be to understand how the HTML code defines the styling for the text:
Since Markdown is extremely simple, it’s a lot easier to read:
# Headline 1
## Headline 2
> Block quote
Here, you can read a post written in Markdown and understand how it will display when published.
It provides flexibility
One of the best things about writing blog posts in Markdown is the flexibility it provides for the way it appears. If you were to change WordPress themes or move to another blogging platform, for example, you wouldn’t have to worry about the formatting not carrying over.
With Markdown, it’ll ensure that the rich text in your blog is maintained and represented in the right format.
For example, the following headline is written in Markdown:
#Creating Effective IOS New User Experiences
Here’s how it looks within this AWeber blog:
Creating Effective IOS New User Experiences
And let’s take a look at what this text would look like if it were migrated to AWeber’s Engineering Blog, which has its own look and feel:
As you can see, the same headline displays correctly for each blog’s theme.
It can be used in tools beyond your blog
Once you become comfortable with Markdown, you’ll find yourself trying it everywhere. Need a bulleted list for your shopping list? You can use Markdown. Want to emphasize text in a note to yourself? Markdown to the rescue again!
Included in the long list of apps that support Markdown is our mobile app Curate, which allows users to quickly create and send email newsletters from a smartphone. By using Markdown, you can format rich text, such as bold headlines, within the app.
Here’s an example Markdown at work in Curate:
And here is how it will appear to subscribers who receive the email:
## Wrap up: Getting started with Markdown
When you write a blog post (or curated email) for your audience, your focus should be on creating stellar content – not formatting. Now that you know how Markdown can help improve the process, it’s time to give it a try!
If you’re already using Markdown, what has your experience been like? And are there other blogging platforms or apps that support it as well? I’d love to hear about it, so be sure to share in the comments below!
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