The Plaintext Journal

Markup Languages for Plain Text

Markup languages for plain text are essential tools in document creation and formatting. Unlike HTML, which is primarily for web development, these languages are tailored for creating, formatting, and structuring a wide range of documents. Here's an overview of several key markup languages that are particularly useful for document-centric tasks.


Purpose: Designed for its readability and simplicity, Markdown is widely used for creating web content, blog posts, and documentation.

Strengths: Its straightforward syntax makes it accessible for those without advanced technical skills. Markdown is supported by many content management systems and is ideal for projects that require basic formatting.


Purpose: A high-quality typesetting system, LaTeX is ideal for producing complex and well-structured documents, especially academic and scientific papers that include formulas and specialized notations

Strengths: It provides precise control over document layout and supports complex formatting, making it a standard in academia and research.


Purpose: This is a readable and straightforward markup language used for writing articles, books, ebooks, and technical documentation.

Strengths: ASCIIDoc is highly versatile, supporting various output formats including HTML, PDF, and EPUB. It offers a richer set of features compared to Markdown, suitable for more complex documentation needs.


Purpose: Primarily used within the Python programming community for technical documentation, it's also suitable for creating web pages and slide presentations.

Strengths: Known for its extensibility and power, reStructuredText supports complex document structures and multiple output formats, making it ideal for technical writers.


Purpose: Org-mode, often used within Emacs, is a mode for keeping notes, maintaining to-do lists, planning projects, and authoring documents with a fast and effective plain-text system.

Strengths: It’s incredibly flexible, allowing users to mix to-do lists, spreadsheet-like calculations, and executable code blocks, making it a powerhouse for academic writing and project planning.


Purpose: A lightweight markup language designed for those who need to quickly convert plain text to rich text, used in content management systems and for writing articles or blogs.

Strengths: Textile is user-friendly and provides a simple syntax for formatting, which is easier to write and read than HTML, making it suitable for those who prioritize ease of use.

These markup languages offer a range of functionalities tailored to various document formatting needs. From the simplicity of Markdown to the comprehensive control of LaTeX, and the flexibility of Org-mode, each language caters to different aspects of document creation and formatting in plain text. Understanding the strengths of each can help you choose the most appropriate one for your specific document creation needs.