How To Create Content In Any Format — With Just Two Tools by Matthew Setter

How To Create Content In Any Format — With Just Two Tools

February 6th, 2015

How many apps do you have installed on your computer? 10, 20, 100? How many of them did you buy

How many apps do you have installed on your computer? 10, 20, 100? How many of them did you buy to help you export content to a specific format? And how much has this all cost?

I don’t mean just in terms of dollars, euros, or pounds; I mean the collective total. How much did you have to pay?

How much time and effort have you invested learning how to use them? How many courses have you been on, books have you bought, and podcasts do you listen to, to educate yourself about them?

I’m sure you’ve got an app to export to PDF. I’d also say it’s highly likely got Microsoft Office installed; or alternatively iWorks or LibreOffice. So how much effort is required to manage all of these applications and processes?

I’m not saying don’t invest in your business — not at all. Any worthwhile endeavour requires a consistent investment of time and money for it to be successful.

That’s a given.

What I’m saying is you should minimise the effort, time, and cost required to produce great content for your business, as much as possible. You don’t need 100s of tools! At most you only need a few!

How Is This Possible?

I produce a lot of content on a regular basis, including SlideShare presentations, blog posts, API documentation, and platform guides.

Some clients want content in HTML, others want it in PDF, and still others want it in Keynote, Powerpoint, Markdown, or Microsoft Word; and the list doesn’t stop there.

To be able to do that efficiently, amongst everything else I do, I need to keep things as simple as possible.

So how do you create such a diverse array of content quickly? What tools do you invest in? Which tools give you the most return for the smallest investment?

For me, there are only two, that’s right, just two!

  • Pandoc
  • The Markdown file format

These two alone let me create content in almost any format which my clients require.

Markdown Format

Markdown is a text file format, which you can write in any text editor, on any operating system. It was designed as a simpler way to markup content than HTML. As a result it’s quick to learn.

It has support for multiple levels of headers, lists, code blocks, links, images, and more. In the image below, you can see a simple sample and what it looks like, when exported to HTML.

Sample markdown file showing HTML preview

If you decide to learn it, I’m sure you could do so in under a weekend. When you’re familiar with it, you can write up documents using it by hand, or decide to pay for an editor, of which there are plenty.

Three I particularly like are Gingko, DraftIn, and Penflip. If you’re daring, you may even try vim, my favourite editor.

If you’re looking for an editor, here’s a list of ones I’ve used, categorised by platform:

Platform Editor
Mac OS X MacDown, iA Writer, Mou
Web Gingko, DraftIn, Penflip, StackEdit
Windows MarkdownPad
Linux ReText

As well as this, there are plugins for a number of the major CMS systems. So if you’re blogging for your clients, you can either send them the Markdown file directly, with no extra effort required to convert it to HTML.

Or if you have access to their platform, you can add your post directly as Markdown and the post will be converted on the fly for you.


Pandoc is an open source tool which can convert files from one markup format to another, describing itself as a “swiss-army knife”.

It can convert documents in markdown, reStructuredText, textile, HTML, DocBook, LaTeX, MediaWiki markup, TWiki markup, OPML, and Emacs Org-Mode to HTML, Microsoft Word, LibreOffice, EPUB, DocBook, OPML, LaTeX, PDF, Textile and many more formats.

It’s beyond the scope of this post to document it in detail, however once you get started with it, you appreciate just how powerful it is. All of the common formats which most clients expect content in it has covered.

Plus it has a more advanced Markdown format, which allows for most of the extra items required, such as tables of content, typographically correct output, headers, footers, citations and more.

It is a command line application, but there are a range of utility options available; whether they’re plugins for your favourite editor, or other applications.

Wrapping Up

And that’s how you keep create a lot of content, across a range of different formats, without breaking either yourself or your bank balance in the process.

If Markdown’s new for you, don’t be concerned, it’s even less involved than HTML. So you’ll be able to master it in a weekend.

What’s more, there are countless editors, both native apps, or web-based, which let you use rich text editors, instead of remembering everything.

Need a hand with content creation? Email me

Matthew Setter. Ethical Hacker, Online Privacy Advocate, and a Software Engineer.

Matthew Setter

Software Engineer, Ethical Hacker, & Online Privacy Advocate.

Matthew Setter is a software engineer, ethical hacker, privacy advocate, & technical writer, who loves travelling. He is based in Nuremberg, Germany. When he's not doing all things tech, he's spending time with his family, and friends.