I’ve recently discovered Markdown by John Gruber, and it’s a nifty (and absolutely awesome) writing tool. If you prefer (like I do) doing the bulk of your writing in a text editor—rather than a word processor—Markdown is quite incredible.

And if you do all your writing in a word processor, try this out, seriously. Write everything up in a text file, without bothering about fonts or styles or page margins, and then import the document into your favorite word processor for styling. Personally, it’s less distracting, and more productive.

Just so you know—this post is written in Markdown, and then uploaded as HTML.

What Markdown is, is essentially a new ‘markup’ syntax (notice the irony in the name?). For example, HTML is a markup language—you do all your writing in a text file, and then you tag the text to give it different effect. HTML has different tags for linking, adding text effects, and a bunch of other things. Do you use (or have heard of) LaTeX? That’s another markup language: you do all your writing in a text file and then add tags to style the document.

The difference in case of Markdown is this: the tags it uses are all punctuation marks and symbols that we normally use anyway, for example in email. How would you show emphasis in a chat message? By using *, like this: *emphasis*. In Markdown you’d use the exact same syntax. It makes your text readable in addition to having all the markup included.

The only problem with writing all your text in a text file is, you have to go back into your word processor and actually add the styling—for example, the headings must be bold and a larger font, and you have to add the styling for subscripts and superscripts. With Markdown, all that is already done in the text file itself!

The natural export from Markdown is HTML (it’s tailored for web writing), but it’s elementary to import the HTML styled text into a word processor. And until you actually do that, you still have a text file that perfectly readable! (In addition, I think there are scripts available that do a direct conversion from Markdown text to MS-Word format. There’s also the [Dingus page][linkdingus] at Daring Fireball) to see your Markdown handiwork.

Excellent creation, John Gruber. I’ve been a fan of your tech-writing for a while now; now I also know why Markdown is so popular.