Goodbye Word, hello Markdown

« Previous / Next »Filed under geekiness, hours before the hockey season starts, Thursday, 7th October 2010.

Being the early adopter I am </sarcasm>, I have to tell you about my new found love of Markdown. As the current version approaches it's 6th birthday, only now am I realising exactly how powerful it is.

In short, Markdown converts plain text written, by anyone, into HTML. You've already seen Markdown, or something similar, if you've ever edited a wiki.

With minimal guidance, any writer can be outputting perfectly formatted HTML paragraphs, headlines, quotes, lists, links, images etc., in just a few minutes. Why is this cool? Because the benefits here are immense; your content producers can concentrate solely on doing what they do best while your web developers will remain calm, safe in the knowledge the content they'll be required to publish will be nice, non-site destroying, valid markup.

Better still, because Markdown is just text, your writers main tool is a simple common or garden *FREE* text editor that is as good as guaranteed to be installed on the machine you're using right now.

The reason I'm writing excitedly about this years after everyone else(!), is because that I see it as a very real answer to a very real problem we have at my workplace. I'm desperately trying to overhaul the documentation we have: fixing our client facing literature is top priority, but there are mountains of internal workflows and guides that need addressing too.

Everything we have is written in Word. Don't get me wrong, I'm not anti-Microsoft by any means, but I am consistently frustrated by the way Word tries to be all things to all men, when in reality, all I want to do is compose a simple letter*. With so much power available, the net result is that everyone I know has learnt one of several tricks available in Word to achieve the same task. These inconsistencies are blindingly obvious from one chapter of our guides to the next and fixing this by applying universal styles to this mish-mash is just not a simple or quick option. Sure, MS will argue we didn't RTFM, but at the combined expense of me feeling like I do actually live in a Dilbert cartoon.

I believe our authors are incredibly talented people, so I want them to stop fighting with the tool and concentrate and outputting the very best, crystal clear, concise script they can. With minimal effort we can style the output so every document looks completely consistent, whether it is published online, printed out, or outputted to PDF(s).

Last month I extended the excellent hard work done at AttackLab's showdown editor a little to produce something our authors can test the water with. I'll be sure to let you know how we get on.

* MS must do this, of course I understand that. If they produced Word Lite, the vast majority of business would never need to upgrade. Ever.

Interesting article, I am currently trying to decide whether to convert a 300+ page word document to markdown. For many of the same issues you mentioned. I'm just unsure of what experience to expect when trying to manage and navigate through a 'complex' document.

Kris wrote on 2nd June 2012

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