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How to Use Markdown to Send Emails That Look Good in Plain Text and Formatting

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Web pages usually look good in a browser. In a text editor, their source code may look impressive and beautiful, too, but legible it is only to few.

Emails, similarly, can be formatted using HTML, the language for web pages. These emails, similarly, can be hard to decipher if you look at just their HTML source. Most such emails also include a plain text part, but this often lacks all formatting.

How about a format that is not only legible but also good-looking in both plain text and with formatting?

The Markdown markup language lets you write in plain text with hints at formatting (such as using ---- to underline and * to emphasize) that appear as rich-text formatting where supported. You don't need to rely on a toolbar and its buttons or memorized keyboard shortcuts to apply the formatting.

Use Markdown to Send Emails That Look Good in Plain Text and Formatting

To use the Markdown markup language in your emails:

  • Preferably, use an email program that supports Markdown.
    • You can use Markdown or parts of Markdown markup (just bold face and italics, for instance) in any email program — do send the emails as plain text in this case —, but recipients may only see the plain text message as you composed it in this case.
  • Use the following Markup in the text of your message.

Emphasis

  • Italics: Enclose the italicized text with a single '*' or '_'. Example:
    _italics_
    will appear as italics.
  • Bold face: Enclose the bolded text with "**" or "__". Example:
    **bold**
    will appear as bold.

Links

  • Just the address: Enclose the URL (web page address) with '<' and '>'. Example:
    <http://example.com/>
    will appear as http://example.com/.
  • Email addresses: Enclose the email address with '<' and '>'. Example:
    <me@exmple.com>
    will appear as me@example.com.
  • Link with text: Enclose the linked text with '[' and ']'; append the URL enclosed in '(' and ')'. Example:
    [an example](http://example.com/)
    will appear as an example.

Quoted Text

  • Block quote: Start the quoted line with '>'. Example:
    > Original message
    will appear as
    Original message
    .
    • Use multiple indentation characters (e.g. ">>" or ">>>>") to increase the level of quotation.

Headlines

  • Top-level header: Underline the headline with '=' or start it with '#'. Examples:
    Top Headline
    ========
    and
    # Top Headline
    will both appear as

    Top Headline

    .
  • Second-level header: Underline the headline with '-' or start it with "##". Examples:
    Second-level Headline
    ---------
    and
    ## Second-level Headline
  • Further headers: Use an additional '#' for each additional level of headline. Example:
    #### Fourth-level Headline

Lists

  • Bulleted list: Precede each list item with '*' or '-'. Example:
    * List
    * Items
    will appear as
    • List
    • Items
    .
  • Ordered list: Precede each item with a number and period. Example:
    1. List
    2. Items
    will appear as
    1. List
    2. Items
    .

Paragraphs and Line Breaks

  • New paragraph: Separate paragraphs with an empty line. Example:
    First
    paragraph.
    
    Second paragraph.
    will appear as

    First paragraph.

    Second paragraph.
  • Line break: End a line with " " (two whitespace characters) and "Return" for a line break. Example:
    First line.  
    Second line.
    will appear as

    First line.
    Second line.

Images

  • Inline image: Start with '!' followed by text describing the image enclosed by '[' and ']'; append the image's address enclosed by '(' and ')'. Example:
    ![example picture](http://example.com/images/example.png)
    .

Line

  • Horizontal line: Put three '*' or '-' characters in a paragraph of their own. Examples:
    Before the line.
    
    ---
    
    After the line.
    and
    Before the line.
    
    * * * * * * * * *
    
    After the line.
    .

For more options (including code blocks), see Markdown: Syntax.

(Updated December 2011)

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