The Easiest Way to Format Your Writing


by C.K. MacLeod

Writers are encouraged to write a first draft without editing or formatting. And with good reason. Formatting and editing can often get in the way of getting your thoughts down. But at some point, you’ll want to format your writing so that it’s easier for your reader to navigate. That is, in fact, the point of formatting: you format for clarity. For reading ease.

What to Format

Sure, you can use the tool bar or the ribbon in your favourite Word processor to add

  • boldface
  • bulleted and numbered lists
  • headings
  • hyperlinks
  • images
  • italics

You can even use your word processor’s styles feature to format most of the items in the list above. But if your writing is headed for a digital environment, such as a blog or website, there’s a more reliable and efficient way to format: writing in markdown.

Markdown, Made Easy

Markdown is a way in to creating HTML—the language of the Web and other digital environments and you don’t need to be techy to figure it out. It doesn’t take long to learn, especially if you use Daring Fireball’s Markdown Dingus. The Dingus is a free online tool that supplies you with a cheat sheet for the markdown “syntax,” in the margin, and it then converts your markdown to HTML. Just follow the steps in the image below.

Markdown Dingus

Once you have your HTML text, you can pop it into your blog’s text editor. In WordPress, put it in the Text tab.

Markdown in Scrivener

You don’t have to write in the Dingus. I write in Scrivener instead (Scrivener is great for organizing blog posts). I’ve created my own markdown margin cheat sheet using the Project Notes area in Scrivener.

Markdown cheatsheet Scrivener

If you use Scrivener for Mac, you can export a file to the Multimarkdown (.html) format, which is similar to Markdown. No need to use the Fireball Dingus. This approach doesn’t work seamlessly for PC users, though.

Markdown Anywhere

Once you’re familiar with markdown, and you don’t have to rely on a cheat sheet, you can write in markdown in any word processor or text editor. I’d recommend trying the Hemingway app because it also doubles as an amazing proofreading tool.

Markdown is simple to learn, and saves you from having to fuss too much with formatting while you’re trying to get things down. Learning it will also prevent the wacky formatting that can occur in digital environments.

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