Saturday, May 21, 2022

Google Docs gets Markdown support for headlines, formatting, and more

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Shreya Christina
Shreya has been with for 3 years, writing copy for client websites, blog posts, EDMs and other mediums to engage readers and encourage action. By collaborating with clients, our SEO manager and the wider team, Shreya seeks to understand an audience before creating memorable, persuasive copy.

Google is adding Markdown support to Google Docs on the web, so you can format your document with text shortcuts instead of keyboards. In a blog post announcing the featureGoogle says it does this through its autocorrect feature, so it will format the text for you automatically after you type it in Markdown format. For example, typing “#Google Docs Gets More Markdown Support” will automatically convert it to a level one headline.

Google says Docs already supported some Markdown autocorrections for bulleted and numbered lists and checkboxes. However, it adds much broader support – you can now use Markdown to add headings, bold and italicize text (or do both), strikethrough (although it is done with a – on either side of your content, rather than the traditional ~), and links. That’s far from it full implementation of Markdownbut at least it covers most of what I personally use the language for.

A new option has appeared!

To activate the feature, go to Tools > Preferences and check the “Automatically detect Markdown” box. If you don’t see it, it may not have rolled out to your account yet – Google says it may take “more than 15 days” for the feature to appear for everyone (personally I had to try three different Google accounts before I found one who had it).

If you’re used to writing in Markdown in other applications, the Google Docs implementation will probably take some getting used to (even if you ignore the seemingly non-standard strikethrough syntax and absent options). Instead of showing you your highlights in plain text, it uses them to automatically apply formatting and then removes them. That’s different from how most other text editors display Markdown by default – most of the time you can still see the highlights, with the editor also adding some sort of formatting to give you an idea of ​​what it will look like when you publish.

A screenshot of how Google Docs, IA Writer,, and Obsidian handle displaying Markdown text.

A look at the different ways you can display Markdown – clockwise from top left: without highlighting in Google Docs, with highlighting and formatting in iA Writer, with highlighting for the line being edited and formatting everywhere else in Obsidian, and with marks and no formatting in TextEdit.

Whether you like this approach or not is probably a personal preference. Google’s implementation probably won’t appeal to the people who use Markdown to take full control of their text (without having to worry about HTML’s annoying closing tags). But for anyone who just wants the ability to use Markdown as a shortcut to formatting, and isn’t interested in plain text hassles, Google’s way may be relatively approachable – rather than just select text and hit Command/Control+ Pressing L to insert a link allows you to just type in a pair of parentheses and parentheses.

(It’s probably also worth noting that this implementation is much friendlier when sharing a document with a colleague who doesn’t know what Markdown is.)

Google says the feature is turned off by default — probably a good choice, because it’s easy to imagine a lot of people getting confused when they type a pound sign before something, it automatically turns into a header — and it comes to “Google Workspace customers, as well as older G Suite Basic and Business customers”, in addition to personal accounts. Now if you’ll excuse me, I think it’s time to start a campaign to get Google to introduce a Vim mode to Docs, as it gets into the habit of adding fun nerdy features.

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