Starting off in Markdown with Word-to-Markdown

Piece of paper with Markdown formatting

Over the years, we’ve written a lot about Markdown–the simple, human-readable language for formatting text–here at ProfHacker. Lincoln wrote an introductory post about it a few years back, and followed that up with one on Pandoc, a tool that lets you convert all manner of text documents ond another on Markdownifier, a tool that lets you grab plain text from (almost) any web page. We’ve had several posts on tools for writing in Markdown: Cory on WikiPack, Mark on Gonzo, me on TextDrop, Natalie on Gingko and Noisli, Amy on Evernote, Konrad wrote on creating interactive slide decks in Markdown, and illustrated it with followups in Mdpress and Pandoc. Also, I reviewed David Sparks’s iBook on Markdown.

But the desire to write and save in plain text is an evergreen one, and so I wanted to spend some time this year looking at ways to use Markdown.

For most people, working with Word documents is a (so, so painful) aspect of academic life. For those of us for whom this struggle is real, Ben Balter has written a handy Ruby gem,, which does exactly what it says on the tin: converts Word documents into friendly, easy-to-reuse and reformat Markdown files. For those of us who might want to try it first, or who aren’t sure they have the skills to install a gem on their computer, he’s also posted a standalone web version. Word-to-Markdown can set content free:

There’s a reason that content authored on the desktop is most commonly shared online as a PDF — a format designed to mimic the properties of paper as closely as possible. Once the content’s in a paper-based format, it’s stuck there forever.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned trying to convert Word documents to Markdown, it’s that Markdown is not an alternative to traditional desktop formats. It’s an entirely different animal. It’s both machine- and human-readable, but more importantly, it forces you to author content openly, semantically, and for an internet-based world.

Next time you begin a new project for which the internet, not paper is the primary output, think twice before firing up that desktop publishing platform. You’ll gain more than mere semantics.

If you’re just getting started with plain text or with Markdown, and Pandoc seems a little daunting–why not give Word-to-Markdown a try?

Do you have a simple way to convert Word files to Markdown? Let us know in comments!

Photo “Prototype” by Flickr user scottjacksonx / Creative Commons licensed BY-SA–2.0

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