Beginners Simple Guide to Using Markdown for Writing

What is markdown?

With this post, I’m learning about markdown language and teaching you at the same time. I am a beginner at using markdown. I’ve found that the blog posts I write when I’m a beginner are more helpful to other beginners because there are things that more advanced people forget. This is going to be true because markdown requires spacing rules that I will forget once I’m an expert and they become second nature.

Here are some markdown notes from class yesterday. These notes will
end up exported to Evernote. If you notice the black background and white
words – that isn't a big deal – I chose that format because I've found it is
easier on my eyes and doesn't wake me up if I'm writing at night.
Let's see how this works – don't be scared, especially if you need fast ways
to type and format at the same time.

Markdown is a simple way to format. When the Internet began, some of us geekier types wrote in html or the language of the web. This was hard because if you forgot one bracket, your code wouldn’t show or it would mess everything up. Markdown is forgiving and pretty simple if you play with it.

Now that the web is maturing and many are moving to tablet devices, we’ve realized that it really is more efficient to keep your hands on the keyboard. It is funny that we moved from the keyboard to the mouse because it was easier to use the mouse. Then we moved from the mouse to touching the screen because it was easier. Now, we’ve found that for some things – particularly text-rich activities like typing this post – keeping your hand on the keyboard really makes sense.

Don’t get stressed. If you want to be more productive and you use Evernote or Blog or you write anything, you might want to use this. If you’re not there yet, just be aware that Markdown language exists and know that it is just a special way of formatting.

What apps use markdown?

I’m using Byword. It is an app that lets you type without any toolbars or headers. I use it on my ipad. I use the markdown language to type adding the symbols as needed. If you pay for the premium version then you can post directly to Evernote , Dropbox, Blogger, or Tumblr.
There are other apps that use markdown. It is writing for smart people… you don’t have to be geek, just able to learn a few keys.

How do I use Markdown?

I intentially waited to post this blog for a week to make sure it is something I use. I do use it. In fact, I'm using it daily to take notes (see the notes above from some student brainstorming we did this week) to draft emails, and to draft blog posts. All of the blog posts from this past week were drafted in Byword.

Quick Markdown Guide for Beginners

What are the markdown tags?

Let’s learn the code now.

This is what I typed at the top of this post.
When you see the ` – that character means “block text” the indented type of text.

Basic Formatting

If you you use an app that uses markdown and type:

**Bold** uses 2 asterisks *italics* uses 1 asterisk

When you look at the final document it will look like this:

Bold – 2 asterisks
Italics – 1 asterisk

Tips for Basic Formatting:

  • You can also use the underscore or underline instead of asterisks.
The text I used to type this. You could just type this in your Markdown editor and preview it to see how it works.
You really should DO this to get it. 


Bulleted Lists

If you want a bulleted list, then all you have to do is use one asterisk starting the line:

* One bullet
* Another bullet

This is what it looks like:

  • One bullet
  • Another bullet

Bullet Tips for beginners

  • You have to have a space betweeen the bullet and the first words in each line. If not, it might think you’re doing italics.
  • You need to have a blank line before you start the bulleted list or it might not work.
  • Press enter between bullets.
  • You can use a plus + or minus – instead of the asterisk in some programs

Numbered Lists

Numbered lists are very simple, just press enter and type a number and a period.

  1. Markdown will make you more productive when you use it.
  2. We all learn things to be more productive including things like touch typing.
  3. Mark down takes far less time to learn than touch typing.

Numbered List tips for beginners

  • Once an app sees you’re typing numbers, it will automatically put them at the beginning of each line when you press enter.
  • Just press backspace and get rid of the numbers when you’re done.
  • You can mix numbered lists and bullets together any way you wish.
  • You can’t format the numbers to be Roman numerals – it is just simple 123.
Hyperlinks are a bit tricky. NOtice that there are NO spaces between the first bracket [] and the parenthesis ().
This is important.


Now, you can do hyperlinks 2 ways. An easy way and a way for people who really are geeks.

Basic Hyperlink (The Easy Way)

Basic hyperlink is like I did above is like this:

[My Tumblr Blog](

It looks like this in the final document:

My Tumblr Blog

Tips for the Basic Hyperlink for beginners:

  • The first part in the brackets are the words you want to hyperlink
  • Second you put the hyperlink in parentheses.
  • DO NOT put a space between the brackets and the parentheses – it won’t work. This took me 10 minutes to figure out. I automatically space between everything. I almost chucked it all for this one reason. Learn from my mistake.

Time saving hyperlinks (Advanced)

Let’s say that you are going to do a blog post or something longer with many hyperlinks. This is for advanced users but it works. If you’re a beginner, SKIP this section! Trust me.
So, if you have a hyperlink that you’re going to use and reuse, let’s say a Twitter handle or two. Here’s how you can do that.

  1. Type in the words you want to hyperlink in brackets.
  2. Then, type the letter you want to use to refer to it. (This is called a variable for those who get into programming.) So, the code for my Twitter handle looks like this:


  3. Then, later on, like at the bottom, you define the link like this: 


Where the first thing in brackets is the letter you want to use, then the colon and then the hyperlink you want to use.

Any time you want to use that link just put the letter in brackets behind it.

[Follow me][t] on Twitter [@coolcatteacher][t]

looks like:

Follow me on Twitter @coolcatteacher

See how I wrote the words above in the original draft.

Tips for Repeating Hyperlinks for “Advanced” Beginners ;-)

  • Note you typically want to only use something the first time it is mentioned to prevent clutter unless absolutely necessary.
  • If you are using an ipad and know you’ll use things like your Twitter handle a lot, you could use autotext and paste your links at the bottom of each post and then just use the letter. This is a big time saver. Autotext lets you automate text you use a lot.
  • If you do not have the hyperlink typed at the bottom, it won’t work at all and the text will look just like you typed it. You must do Step 4 above or it doesn’t work.
  • Don’t repeat letters in a document.
  • You start over in a new document and have to retype the definitions at the bottom. This means you can reuse the letters in the new document.

What if I want to link to an image?

This is a bit tricky because the image should already be up on the web. I would hold off on this unless you’re advanced. If you are, instead of a hyperlink, you paste the link to the image second. Remember, if you want a repeating image, it will work the same way as above.
So, I’ll do a simple image like this (sorry the link is so long). I found an image I wanted to show and copied the image link. You get there on an ipad by opening the image in a new tab by itself. Usually it ends in .jpg called a “j-peg.” !

[Inspirational Quote]( "Quote from an image I'm using to demo")

Inspirational Quote

Block Quotes

You can quote people just by using the right pointing caret (just above the period.) >"Innovate or depreciate" Vicki Davis looks like

“Innovate or depreciate.” Vicki Davis.

When do we use blockquotes?

We use blockquotes when we are quoting another source. This is good netiquette and more ethical than not using them. It is just something that developed as bloggers wrote.

Can we combine this with what we’ve already learned?

Yes! You can mix these things together. So.

>"Innovate or depreciate." [Vicki Davis][t]

Turns into

“Innovate or depreciate.” Vicki Davis


Headings are simple

#Heading 1 ##Heading 2 ###Heading 3 ####Heading 4 #####Heading 5 ######Heading 6

This looks like:

Heading 1

Heading 2

Heading 3

Heading 4

Heading 5
Heading 6

Heading Tips

  • There are 6 levels of headings.
  • How those headings look are determined by the blog or software you’re using. Your headings will NOT look like my headings. They also won’t look like they do in preview.
  • TEST TEST TEST YOUR HEADINGS! – That is why an experimental post like this makes sense. I’m helping you and learning the code while being transparent that I might (and will) mess up the first time this post goes live!
  • Some people put the number signs at the beginning and end of the heading but it is not necessary.
  • Think of headings as outlines.
  • If you are blogging, Headings are important parts of SEO or “search engine optimization.” This means that you should put your most important words in headings.
  • If you’re taking notes, processing the notes by making lists (or even mind maps) is shown [by research] ( to improve the use of notes. This is why I like to use headings, bullets, and numbers when I take my notes into Evernote.

Showing Code

I’ve been showing you the code I’m typing by using the ‘backtick’. located to the left of the 1. I can’t show the backtick because this is the one thing that won’t show this way. But you can see it in the screenshots above.

Horizontal lines

You can do underlines several ways but you should use 3 or more dashes or asterisks

- - - or ***

It shows like this:

Tip for horizontal lines
*If you don’t have a blank line in front of the horizontal line, it might not show and it will mess up the heading or items in front of it. Another hard lesson learned.

Manual Breaks

When you have 2 or more spaces at the end of the line and press enter it makes a manual break. A manual break means one line in front of the other.

Tips for manual breaksIf you want a full line in between, make sure that you press enter twice.
I used the Markdown syntax guide from github to test and make this work.

So, how will someone use this?

Again, if you are already writing a lot – including blog posts, Evernote notes, books, and more… this can save you time.

Why markdown makes sense

Any time your hand leaves the keyboard to do something whether it is swipe or click a mouse, you slow yourself down. When time is money and you’re working to draft or keep your wordcount up, typing in an app like Byword and using markdown can save you time.

Do I recommend markdown?

I’m still learning markdown and will share how I keep using it. As with all productivity tips, time will tell. However, many productivity gurus I trust are using this type of app and for me, that means it is time to take a try.

For now, after about a week of learning it, I'm using it more than three times daily, at least. Emails that are longer than a few sentences and longer notes for Evernote, I'm typing them in Byword first. It syncs to Dropbox as well. It is a bit interesting if you forget to export it and want to do that on Windows 8, but I've found an app that will do it there as well.

Just remember, it is just a fast way to format and type designed for writers who are willing to try something new. If it freaks you out, don't do it.

How I’ll start using markdown

I’ll experiment with markdown for taking Evernote notes and for writing. I’ll let you know what I think. Right now I’m syncing with Dropbox for this blog post and I’ll generate the HTML and paste it into Blogger.

If I like it, I’ll pay the $4.99 for the premium version of Byword so I can publish to Blogger, Tumblr, and Evernote. (I did this after a day – it is worth it. I do admit that I do not like to publish straight to blogger because it won't let me do a draft – I export the HTML and copy it into Blogger and add pictures, etc.)

How are you using markdown?

I would love to hear from those of you who’ve beat me to this trend and are already using it.
Do you mind leaving your thoughts in the comments or sharing links to blog posts you’ve written about why you like (or don’t like) markdown?

As always, thank you for helping disseminate best practices. We all become more productive when we learn and share together!

This is a tad geeky for some but sometimes the most useful things are. Enjoy and, as always, please help others by leaving comments below or a link to your own blog post to help others learn about this handy method of writing.

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Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis is a full-time classroom teacher and IT Director in Georgia, USA. She is Mom of three, wife of one, and loves talking about the wise, transformational use of technology for teaching and doing good in the world. She hosts the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast which interviews teachers around the world about remarkable classroom practices to inspire and help teachers. Vicki focuses on what unites us -- a quest for truly remarkable life-changing teaching and learning. The goal of her work is to provide actionable, encouraging, relevant ideas for teachers that are grounded in the truth and shared with love. Vicki has been teaching since 2002 and blogging since 2005. Vicki has spoken around the world to inspire and help teachers reach their students. She is passionate about helping every child find purpose, passion, and meaning in life with a lifelong commitment to the joy and responsibility of learning. If you talk to Vicki for very long, she will encourage you to "Relate to Educate" or "innovate like a turtle" or to be "a remarkable teacher." She loves to talk to teachers who love their students and are trying to do their best. Twitter is her favorite place to share and she loves to make homemade sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls and enjoys running half marathons with her sisters. You can usually find her laughing with her students or digging into a book.

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