Writing notes in markdown

September 29, 2011

For a long while I’ve been looking for a clean way to write my notes on the computer, which isn’t tied to a particular Operating System, or to particular word processors. I started with Microsoft Word, moved over to OpenOffice, and subsequently LibreOffice when I started using Linux as my main desktop operating system, and was subsequently frustrated by the pains of trying to version control notes with LibreOffice binary formats to allow me to edit on multiple computers etc.

In addition, on library computers I use Word on Windows, at home, LibreOffice on Linux - with differences in font rendering, word processor etc. formatting goes out of the window, and you spend longer disentangling your documents than is really necessary.

Essentially, my criteria for the ideal note-taking platform are:

With that in mind, moving over to a markup-based, plain text file setup seemed a good idea, and I initially settled on LaTeX, with mixed success. The great vim-latex made the task of marking up a LaTeX document much faster, using vim as my primary editing tool. However, I ended up typing far more than I would simply writing notes in LibreOffice etc.

When I started using Jekyll as my blogging platform, I wrote all my posts in plain html. However, I’ve started looking more seriously at markup languages, especially Markdown and Github flavoured markdown. The inherent flexibility of having your text simply converted to other formats (read HTML, XHTML, and others, including latex, pdf etc. via tools such as Pandoc), was really tempting.

Having used markdown for some of my blog posts now, and appreciated the lack of need to write any markup beyond some simple indents, I’ve decided to try it out as the main platform for my academic notes. Whether or not this is the solution to my notetaking will have to be seen, but for now, it fills the gap.