TECHNOLOGY

How to Use Markdown in Google Docs, Slides & Drawings

Is Google Docs the Best New Markdown Editor?

Jonathan Wylie
4 min readMar 31, 2022
Photo by Nathana Rebouças on Unsplash

Google has announced that it will now support Markdown for Google Docs, Slides, and Drawings. Google says that with this addition, you will be able to create rich text documents faster and without having to learn keyboard shortcuts. But will it make a difference to your online writing?

Let’s find out.

What is Markdown?

Markdown is a lightweight markup language that was invented by John Gruber and Aaron Swartz in 2004. Essentially it is a tool for online writers that converts plain text into HTML without the need for tags or other formatting instructions.

Once you have the basic syntax under your belt, it’s effortless to use and has steadily been growing in popularity. Today, you will find it on a host of modern notetaking apps like Craft, Obsidian, Roam Research, and Bear.

How is Google Implementing Markdown?

Google’s implementation of Markdown is actually kind of interesting. Once enabled, they are repurposing their autocorrect tool to recognize Markdown formatting and automatically convert it to rich text.

What’s more, this particular implementation is an extension of Google’s support for Markdown syntax. For example, Google Docs already lets you use an asterisk and a space, or a dash and a space, as a bullet point.

In addition, there are various ways to start a numbered list, while an open square bracket next to a closed square bracket with a space after it will create a checkbox.

How to Enable Markdown in Google Docs, Slides & Drawings

Markdown editing is not a default option, and probably rightly so. If you have no idea what Markdown is and your computer suddenly starts autocorrecting your typos or text, you would likely get quite annoyed.

So, here’s how to enable Markdown:

  • Open a new Google Doc
  • Go to Tools > Preferences
  • Check the box next to, Automatically detect Markdown
  • Click OK to confirm

Examples of Markdown

It’s worth noting that Google’s Markdown support is not a complete implementation. It supports the more common syntax uses but is by no means a replacement for a dedicated Markdown editor.

That could change over time, but as of today, it supports headings, bold, italic, strikethrough, and links. For most people, this is 90% of what you would need, so you can decide for yourself if it is something you would use or not.

Here are some examples of what it looks like in a Google Doc:

  • To format text as italic, enclose the text in a single asterisk or underscore. E.g. *text* or _text_.
  • Enclose the text in two asterisks or underscores to format the text as bold. E.g. **text** or __text__.
  • To format text as italic and bold, enclose it in three asterisks or underscores. E.g. ***text*** or ___text___.
  • To format text in strikethrough, enclose it in a single dash. E.g. -text-.

You can see the rest of the Markdown syntax on this Google Help page.

Who Can Use Google’s Markdown Editor?

Google says that Markdown editing is available to all Google Workspace customers and legacy G Suite Basic and Business customers from March 29, 2022. It’s also available to users with personal Google Accounts.

If you don’t see it right away, relax. It will be here before you know it. As with other Google updates, this is part of a phased rollout, so patience is all you need to start using Markdown in Google Docs.

Should You Use Markdown in Google Docs?

I have used Markdown in the past, but it is no longer an essential part of my writing. The online editors and tools that I use don’t necessitate writing in this way. However, your needs may differ.

Many people find that they can write more efficiently when they use Markdown, so having that option inside Google Docs will be a significant advantage. But, ultimately, this is going to be a matter of personal preference.

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Jonathan Wylie

I help people get the most out of their technology. Connect with me and read my technology posts here: https://techsalad.net