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Plain text markup languages

keyboard

Instead of relying in complicated bloated office programs or embedding messy WYSIWYG interfaces in web applications, a quick way to format plain text is to use a markup language. Just like HTML that has tags to structure a document and render into special formatting, plain text can also be “pretty” by using a standard markup language. It is easier to type as they normally don’t interfere much in the visual aspect of the text. That means that even if you don’t have support for the markup language, you can read the text without problems.

On code documentation files, plain text markup languages are preferred over languages like HTML or LaTeX to waste little time on editing without loosing good presentation.

Some of these languages are:

Markdown

It was created as a plain text to HTML markup language made to simplify writing formatted text that will generally end translated to HTML tags. The syntax is very simple and supported on many text editors and web platforms.

Basic markup guide

# Heading 1
## Heading 2
*Bold*
– List item 1
– List item 2
+ sublist item
[text](Link)

Cheatsheet

You can find a markup cheatsheet here

You can read more on the markdown project website.

Asciidoc

As the website defines it, it is more than just a markup language. It is a text based document generation tool. You can create beautiful documentation with it by exporting to formats like HTML, PDF or LaTeX. Besides the usual markup of plain text, you can also use variables with a certain value to reuse across your document, saving you from typing repeated text or update a value in several places with one change.

Basic markup guide

== Heading 1
=== Heading 2
\*Bold\*
* List item 1
* List item 2
** sublist item
link_url[Link_text]

Cheatsheet

There’s an asciidoc cheatsheet here

You can read more at the asciidoc website.

Org

Org was born in the Emacs org-mode users world. I think besides Emacs there are no other places where org syntax is being used. Org lets you do many things in plain text, like organizing your to-do lists, your agenda, plan your projects, add source code blocks and execute the code right in your document among many other things. You can easily export to HTML, LaTeX, PDF among other formats. Some parts of the syntax can be complicated but since it is intended to be used within Emacs, it’s easy to handle with simple keyboard shortcuts.

Basic markup

* Heading 1
** Heading 2
\*Bold\*
/italic/
\_underline\_
- List item 1
- List item 2
  - Sublist item
[[Link_url][link_text]]

Cheatsheet

There are many Org-mode key stroke cheatsheets, but for markup only you can consult here

You can read more on the org-mode website.

Keyboard photo by Wouter Verhelst on Flickr

About the author

Gabriel Saldaña Gabriel Saldaña is a web developer, photographer and free software advocate. Connect with him on and Twitter

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