Markdown: Beyond the screen

November 15 2013

Markdown is great for a number of reasons. It helps people unfamiliar with HTML write in a way that will render as valid, structured HTML with the appropriate tools behind the scenes that the writer doesn’t need to worry about.

Another thing it’s great for is formatting in the absence of visual formatting. You’ll notice this in plain text editors like Sublime Text or in content management systems that lack WYSIWYG formatting tools. We have been spoilt recently with applications that give us the best of both worlds — tools like iA Writer and Editorially that allow us to see an inline preview of the Markdown-formatted text as well as maintaining the Markdown syntax.

Editorially’s beautiful editor shows you inline previews of Markdown-formatted text. The best of both worlds!

I have a scenario where Markdown is a huge help in the absence of formatting — handwritten notes. It’s something I have been playing with for the last few months, and unsurprisingly it works very well.

The problem with handwritten notes is that formatting is substituted for spacing which sometimes isn’t enough to clearly read a handwritten document with sections and headings. Before I started using Markdown to take analogue notes, I would have trouble differentiating between a heading or a very short, isolated paragraph.


Markdown thrives in plain-text environments where it is the only visual reference for formatting which makes it ideal for pen and paper. By using hashes for headings, it provides a quick visual clue for section breaks on paper.

It’s also useful for emphasising text. I used other techniques in the past like retracing the letters (can be messy and time-consuming) and underlining text (can lead to accidental line-throughs when writing quickly), but Markdown’s asterisk-wrapping is quick and easy to write and provides a great visual anchor when scanning notes.

If you find yourself struggling to create a visual hierarchy in handwritten notes I suggest giving Markdown a try. Where formatting is absent Markdown excels at providing you with a great formatting framework for helpful visual reference points.