A Complete Guide to Using Markdown For Documentation

Heard of Markdown yet? Here’s why your documentation doesn’t match up to the professionals and the easy-to-use technology you may be missing out on. 

An easy-to-use and adaptable application, Markdown is used extensively by writers and is gaining a lot of popularity. Markdown is used for professional formatting of technical documentation in plaintext. You may have come across Markdown as an application used to format text on internet message boards and even on GitHub readme files. 

In this post, we’ll go through all the Markdown editor’s nuances and discuss whether or not using Markdown for documentation is appropriate for your project.

What is Markdown?

Developed by John Gruber in 2004, Markdown is a lightweight markup language used to format elements in plaintext documents. 

Its popularity has grown over the years as an easy-to-use feature that is used to format technical writing. It is now one of the world’s most popular markup languages.

  • Markdown is an editor that developers extensively use as it is easy to learn and can therefore focus more on your content rather than the nuances of formatting. 
  • Using Markdown is starkly different from using a WYSIWYG editor. For example, by clicking buttons, you can easily format your text using an application like Microsoft Word. That is, the changes are instantaneously reflected in the text write-up. However, Markdown isn’t as straightforward as this. 
  • Making changes in a Markdown-formatted file will require you to integrate Markdown syntax to the text for the changes to be reflected in your text. However, you can simply add Markdown formatting elements to a plaintext file using a text editor application or one of the many Markdown applications available for the macOS, Windows, Linux, iOS, and Android operating systems.
  • In many development tools (mainly static site generators) that you use for publishing documentation, many of them will use Markdown. For example, Github uses Markdown. Therefore, if you upload files containing Markdown and use an MD file extension, Github will automatically render the Markdown into HTML.

The Backend of Markdown

Understanding the processes that happen in the backend of Markdown helps you to format your Markdown files better. 

It also ensures that you’re more in control of your formatting changes and knows exactly what the rendered output is going to look like. 

The process involved in learning the Markdown syntax and understanding how the backend works during the rendering of a file is as follows – 

  1. Create your Markdown file using a text editor or specialized Markdown application.
  2. Open your Markdown file in a specialized Markdown application.
  3. Convert your Markdown file to an HTML document using the Markdown application and parser.
  4. View your HTML file in a web browser.

This is simply one process that you can follow to view the HTML file in your browser. There are additional resources like Pandoc, which can help you convert your  Markdown files into other output formats, including DOCX, PDF, RTF, ODT, or EPUB.

For example, you can convert your Markdown files into an ebook, with each Markdown file functioning as an individual chapter.

The Flavours of Markdown 

Since its launch in 2004, there have been numerous updates making each version of Markdown – one of the most popular markup languages – slightly different from its predecessor. These variations of the Markdown applications are referred to as ‘ markdown flavours.’ 

To better understand what these Markdown flavors are, try and picture these as language dialects. People of the same city may speak the same language, but there are stark differences between the two dialects. The same analogy is valid for the various flavors of the Markdown application. Using Dillinger to write with Markdown is a vastly different experience than using Ulysses.

Thus, the best way to figure out all the essential syntax elements of any particular flavor of Markdown is by reading the markdown formatted documentation and using the application for yourself.

It is good practice to pick a Markdown application with good Markdown support if you’re just starting. This will help you maintain your Markdown files’ portability just in case you decide to switch to a new Markdown flavor.


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What is Markdown Editor? 

Markdown editors have been around since the turn of the decade but only became popular after the conceptualization of Markdown in the year 2004. 

  • A Markdown editor is essentially an intuitive and lightweight text-to-HTML conversion tool for web content writers. 
  • It saves you from the hassle of writing long, laborious HTML codes to format your content and instead uses a plain text formatting syntax to quickly and easily translate content into HTML.
  • You can use a Markdown editor to format lists, headers, and emphasis and incorporate links and images. The idea is to produce web content that is as easy to read as plain text. 
  • Markdown editors use characters and symbols that you’re already familiar with to help you make a piece of web-ready text. Thus, if you know how to make an emoticon or create a hashtag, you can leverage the same in your Markdown application.
  • Markdown editors in today’s times are supported by a variety of different systems– from text editors combined with Static Site Generators to dedicated Markdown web applications.
  • Thus, these editors are so wholesome that you don’t need to memorize any syntax. As a result, someone with little or even no HTML experience can use a Markdown editor to create content for the web. 

Benefits of Markdown Editor 

Apart from providing a seamless formatting experience, using a Markdown editor has the following benefits:

  1. Collaboration

    One of the significant advantages of using a Markdown editor is the ability to collaborate. Unlike Microsoft Word, where you have to send a particular document back and forth for other people’s input, a Markdown editor allows multiple users to work on the same document (written in Markdown) in real-time.

  2. Export In Multiple Formats

    The ability to take your Markdown content and export it into HTML, PDF or even Rich Text Format without any difficulties is another benefit that the Markdown editor provides.

  3. Multiple Platform Support

    Since Markdown editors are supported by numerous platforms like Linux, Mac, Windows, web, you can pretty much write and edit text from any device and location. This brings in the sense of efficiency and productivity, unlike any other formatting application. 

    In addition, having a cloud-based folder that is accessible across multiple devices helps you indulge in work with relative ease.

  4. Simplicity and Syntax highlighting

    It’s super simple to learn Markdown. 

    Markdown has seen technical writers flock towards it simply because the Markdown editor allows them to richly formatted content exceptionally quickly compared to working with HTML. Markdown syntax can be written easily in plain text before being rendered by HTML and does not need a lot of experience to get started.

    Plus, it doesn’t interrupt your workflow with the need to click buttons, and thus your content is not tied to the format of your editor.

    Additionally, the support of code blocks in Markdown makes it even more worthwhile. Coupled with syntax highlighting (using a syntax highlight library), Markdown becomes more simple and powerful than ever before.

  5. Versatility

    Due to its versatility, there has been a lot of product documentation that is available for Markdown. For example, you can write in Markdown in a text editor like Atom or even a version-control platform, such as GitHub since that also supports Markdown.

When Should you Use Markdown Editor? 

In theory, Markdown can be used for creating documentation – develop anything and everything – ranging from Markdown document to software documentation.

From creating websites, wiki pages, Markdown documents, building project documentation, notes, books, presentations, writing documentation, and even email messages, Markdown finds its application everywhere and is an excellent formatting tool. 

So, when should you use a Markdown Editor instead of a WYSIWYG editor, something that has become a standard nowadays?

If you’re looking to create simple text documentation with rich formatting, a Markdown-formatted document should be your first choice. Unfortunately, the WYSIWYG editor usually requires you to click buttons to achieve the formatting you want and thus is constrained to the features provided by the software developer. 

Additionally, you may also have to work in your chosen editor at all times, focusing away from the actual content.

Thus, you should ask yourself whether you require thousands of pages of content that will be reused across multiple platforms such as the web. If so, you will be better off using the WYSIWYG editor. 


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How to Use Markdown Editor? 

The most efficient way to work with a Markdown editor is in a file with an extension that is either. Markdown or .md. Then, you proceed to write your text in the usual way, the only difference being you need to format it using Markdown’s formatting syntax. 

If you’re using Markdown for the first time, don’t worry, as the syntax is readily available online. 

If you happen to work in a plain text editor, ensure that the editor has a parser for the Markdown file format. Additionally, if you’re working on a knowledge base platform for its benefits like CloudTutorial that supports Markdown, you will find further documentation about the features on their website. 

If you’re just starting and want to get a hand at the Markdown editor, you should try using a bit of Markdown in Trello to format some of your cards. This will help you improve significantly and with relative ease.

To use the Markdown editor, start by saving the file with a .md extension and writing the Markdown syntax. Subsequently, you can toggle the visualization of the editor between the code and the preview of the Markdown file while working on the editor.
While opening your Markdown file with VSCode, make sure that Markdown highlighting is enabled. Next, navigate to the command palette by pressing F1 on your keypad, select type export, and then scroll down to select markdown-pdf. This ensures your Markdown file can be exported in a PDF.
These are the following steps to read a Markdown file –
  1. First, navigate to the Chrome menu and click on select. Next, scroll to more markdown tools and then on extensions.
  2. Select the option to get more extensions to access Google Web Store.
  3. Search for the Markdown Viewer and then click on Add to Chrome.
After you do this, the newly installed application will be reflected on the extensive menu of your Chrome browser. Thus, your Markdown file will now be compatible with your browser.
  1. Open up your project editor and ensure that your README.md file is selected in the file tree on the left.
  2. Navigate your way to the top of the right pane and click the Markdown button to reveal the edit mode for your file.
  3. With your Markdown file now opened, you can directly start typing into the file and make edits to it.


Thus, Markdown is a free markup language that opens up many possibilities that may vary between simple note-taking and blogging to formatting and writing technical documentation.

Markdown is, therefore, an excellent language for creating basic documents and knowledge bases and generating formatted text files that can be used across numerous platforms. Coupled with the Content Management System, it is also capable of producing live documentation.

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