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February 5, 2018

Does Markdown fit into your content strategy?

Markdown is a text-based markup language designed for content authoring. Using a limited set of formatting marks, you can create content and render it to HTML or another format.

There’s a growing buzz about Markdown in the technical communication community. While great for quick content development, there are some limitations to its usefulness.

ice cream scoops

Some unitaskers – like Markdown – do one job very well, and can be applied to other similar tasks. But if you also need cake… [image: flickr/jamiesrabbits, cropped]

If you are only creating content for a wiki, for example, Markdown should suit you just fine. If you need to publish to multiple formats, or publish variants for different audiences or purposes, things can get complicated quickly.

In a lot of ways, Markdown reminds me of a stripped-down Microsoft Word. (Hear me out…)

Word is great for quick content creation and has one primary target in mind: print. Now, you can create online content in Word, but it requires some additional scripting (now mostly behind the scenes). But to start doing more interesting things with your Word content, you need to add additional functionality using either a plugin or a third-party application.

The same is true with Markdown. Many of the Markdown extensions involve scripting—often within the content files—and still target a single primary output. And since there is no single Markdown standard, some third-party applications even use varying or proprietary markup.

If you are looking for a quick and easy content solution for a very specific need, by all means use Markdown. But if you have complicated content requirements, you may be better off looking at something more robust.

And there’s no reason why you couldn’t allow some contributors to use Markdown to jot down initial drafts. But those drafts need to be converted, consumed, and then managed in your main source format. That is, Markdown would be a disposable starting point.

Markdown is neither intrinsically good nor bad. It has real use cases, but its returns diminish as content needs grow. While it may be a “unitasker,” it does its job well.