Markdown for Lawyers

Filed under: Blogging | Tags: , , |

You may have heard lawyers talking about Markdown and how it is making blogging easier. So what is Markdown?

Markdown is a text-to-HTML conversion tool for web writers. Markdown allows you to write using an easy-to-read, easy-to-write plain text format, then convert it to structurally valid XHTML (or HTML).

Say what? In short, Markdown lets you write and format text for the web at the same time, while still using plaintext files. Here are the main benefits of Markdown.

Markdown is Portable and Makes the Round-Trip

I want to write where ever and whenever an idea hits.

  • At the office.
  • At home.
  • Out with my iPad.
  • Or in bed with my iPhone on the nightstand.

I want to be able to add or change drafted articles and start working on new posts.

Beyond this, I don’t want to have to think about moving drafts between systems, I just want them to BE THERE. And that’s where Markdown earns its keep. Since text formatted with Markdown text is just simple plain text you can edit it on a portable device and have it synced to your desktop and other devices. And the formatting is preserved because it is just plaintext.

The combination I use is Simplenote on iPhone and iPad, and NValt on the desktop. This combination automatically and continuously keeps my text in sync across all of my computers and devices. The way I used to write is to write and then have to seperate

Note: if you prefer, you can use the better known Notational Velocity (which NValt is a fork of), however you will lose the preview window showing what the Markup text will look like when formatted. If you use an Android mobile device or a PC, you can find SimpleNote compatible programs for those platforms as well.

Markdown is Readable

Another benefit of Markdown formatted text is that you can still read it with all the squiggly bits. Below is a copy of this article still in the original Markdown format. And unlike a html version, it is still very readable.

Markdown keeps you focused on writing:

With Markdown, you format while typing, thereby keeping your fingers on they keyboard (without the needs to grab the mouse and locate formatting icons), which helps you keep your train of thought.

This may seem like a minor thing. However, having to grab the mouse to select formatting icons is an unnecessary distraction when you are writing,.

When you’re done writing, you’re done!

Previously, I would write drafts in SimpleNote or Notational Velocity and then copy the text into WordPress or MarsEdit. This meant writing and later formatting the text once it was in the blogging editor. Lists and quotes were no problem. However, figuring out which words should be italicized or bolded required re-reading and trying to find the flow which was so natural when I was initially writing. Being able to put the emphasis where it belongs when writing, it just so much easier.

Basic Markdown Syntax

Ok. If you made it this far, let’s give you the basics of working in Markdown. There are several ways to do things depending on your preference.

You can italicize and bold by using asterisks or underscores.

A single asterisk or underscore before and after a word or phrase is emphasis / italics.

  • “That’s *some* pig!”

Double asterisk or underscore **before** and __after__ a word or phrase is bold.

  • “They say Shaft’s a bad… __Shut your mouth!__”

Unordered lists, aka _bulleted_ lists can be started using either a dash “-” or a plus “+”

  • “- item one”
  • “+ item two”
  • Note: For indented lists, just put a space before the dash “-” or asterisk “*”

Quotes are preceded by the > symbol.

  • “>Like, Oh my gawd!”

Numbered lists are started with a _number_ followed by a period and a space.

  • “1. item one.”
  • “- item two”
  • “- item three”
  • Note: you only have to number the first entry. A dash “-” or an asterisk “*” keeps the numbered list going. However, if you are changing from a numbered list to an unnumbered list (or visa versa), you need to separate the lists with a line of regular (non-list) text (so, “line break” text “line break”), or the prior list will simply continue.

Headings are formatted by either hash / pound marks “#” or equals “=”  or dashes “-” _underneath_ the text

  • “Heading 1″
  • “========”
  • “Heading 2″
  • “————–”
  • “#Heading 1″
  • “##Heading 2″
  • “###Heading 3″

Links are formed by putting the anchor text in brackets followed by the link in parenthesis.

  • The link to my disability site would be “[disability site](http://www.socialsecurityinsider.com/)”

Links are probably the hardest part of Markdown. However, just remember “text in brackets, followed by link in parens.”

Examples of Markdown:

With just a couple of basic tags, you can write html ready text. Here is part of this article as originally written in Markdown:

You may have heard lawyers talking about **Markdown** and how it is making blogging easier. So what is [Markdown](http://daringfireball.net/projects/markdown/)?

>Markdown is a text-to-HTML conversion tool for web writers. Markdown allows you to write using an easy-to-read, easy-to-write plain text format, then convert it to structurally valid XHTML (or HTML).

_Say what?_ In short, Markdown lets you write _and_ format text for the web _at the same time_, while still using _plaintext files_. Here are the main benefits of Markdown.

## Markdown is Portable and Makes the Round-Trip

I want to write _where ever_ and _whenever_ an idea hits:

- At the office.

- At home.

- Out with my iPad.

- Or in bed with my iPhone on the nightstand.

I want to be able to *add* or *change* drafted articles *and* start working on *new* posts.

What finally sold me on Markdown was the ability to write and edit articles for the web once, whether I am on a computer, iPhone, or iPad and have those changes synced automatically to all my other devices. Let me know how you use Markdown in your practice or blog.

Shoutout goes to John Gruber of Daring Fireball for inventing Markdown. Check out this page for a complete syntax of Markdown, or view Episode 284 of Don McAlistair’s ScreenCasts Online.


  • Jskey1080

    Thanks for this article. I am trying to learn markdown to draft pleadings. What is the best way to convert the finished product to Word or Pages? And, how do I center text in markdown, particularly paragraph numbers in pleadings?

    • http://www.Planet10Tech.com TomaszStasiuk

      Well… markdown is mostly for writing for the web. Multimarkdown adds to the markdown feature set including: footnotes, tables, citations and bibliography, math support, automatic cross-referencing ability, smart typography, image attributes, table and image captions, definition lists, glossary entries, & document metadata. 

      However, it still does not turn it into a word processor. 

      To export the formated version of the document (with the italics, bold, bullets etc — and not just the codes), I use the preview option in NVAlt (link in post). I can copy and paste the formatted preview into Pages.

      Note: for pleadings, you may want to look at Scrivener. It is an authoring tool, however it lets you easily break things down into sections which can be easily rearranged and even put into a library so the next time, you can assemble your document out of snippets rather than starting from scratch or reworking multiple prior documents.