Many of us here at Macworld are fans of Markdown, a nifty markup language that lets you write for the Web using plain text and a simple formatting syntax. We also frequently write in HTML. But one of the challenges in writing in these “languages,” if you will, is that it’s tough to see exactly how what you’re writing will look once it’s published on the Web.
A couple years back, I reviewed Marked, a fantastic utility that shows you a live preview of Markdown-, HTML-, and XML-formatted files. Even better, Marked can use custom CSS templates, so you can make those previews look almost exactly like your text will appear on your website or blog. Marked can even convert your code’s equivalent HTML for pasting into that blog or CMS, and it can export your preview to a number of document types, including PDF, RTF, and .doc.
I subsequently covered a big update to Marked that added additional preview styles, auto-scrolling your preview to the location of your latest edits, multi-file previews, custom file processors, and support for tables of contents, among other changes.
Many of the new features in Marked 2 focus on helping you write better. For example, the app offers a slew of keyword-highlighting features in previews. These include default lists of “overused” phrases that you might want to avoid or replace; you can add your own words and phrases—either to avoid them, or to highlight them for other reasons. (You also get a notepad, visible in the app’s Keyword Drawer, that lets you add temporary keywords you’d like to highlight in just the current document.) Another useful highlighting feature is Visualize Word Repetitions, which highlights words you’ve used repeatedly, either at the paragraph or document level. Click a highlighted word to dim the preview except for that word, making it easy to see just how often you’ve used it.
Similarly, Marked can watch your text for the use of passive voice, and provide document statistics such as the number of paragraphs, sentences, and characters; readability metrics (reading ease, grade level, clarity); and more. Taken together, these highlighting, monitoring, and statistical features won’t make a good writer out of a bad one, but they can help conscientious writers improve their prose.
Another big area of focus is search and browsing. You can search within your preview for text strings, and Marked offers case-sensitive and whole-word searches, along with regex searching. If your original document includes headers, Marked offers a table of contents for browsing those sections, and lets you easily collapse and expand document sections—I frequently use the latter feature when previewing longer documents. You can also manually create bookmarks within each document and then quickly navigate among those bookmarks using keyboard shortcuts.
When working with longer documents, Marked 2 offers a couple other features for convenient viewing and navigating. A nifty Zoom option lets you quickly zoom out to see a sort of birds-eye view of your document preview. Just as useful, at least to me, is the Mini Map, which displays a tiny thumbnail-like version of the document along the right-hand side of the window; click any part of this mini version to jump to the corresponding spot in the full-size preview.
One of my favorite new features is the capability to have Marked 2 monitor an entire folder of text files, automatically previewing the one that’s been edited most recently. And a new Preview Clipboard feature lets Marked display a preview of the contents of the clipboard—for example, if you’ve copied some Markdown or HTML text from a website or other document.
Marked 2 also now supports the Fountain and CriticMarkup syntaxes, as well as Multi-Markdown 4.2 (which includes the capability to include footnotes, something not available in standard Markdown). Version 2 also adds support for MarsEdit, VoodooPad, Ulysses III, Day One, and a few other apps that don’t store your writings in traditional plain-text files.
I’m really just touching the surface here of what Marked 2 can do. The detailed online documentation is a must-read for anyone looking to get the most out of the utility. It’s an indispensable part of my writing life.
This review is part of Macworld’s GemFest 2014. Every weekday from July until September, the Macworld staff will use the Mac Gems blog to briefly cover a standout free, low-cost, or great-value program. You can view a list of this year’s apps, updated daily, on our handy GemFest chart, and you can visit the Mac Gems homepage for past Mac Gems reviews.