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Tom Readings

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Markdown vs Referencing

I am quite a fan of Markdown for simplifying the process of writing online content. As well as using it on this blog, I have been using a slightly personalised version to write notes while reading. I think I have now discovered another niche subset of uses for (an extended version of) Markdown within education, to provide concise explanatory descriptions for academic referencing systems.

If you are not familiar with Markdown, it is basically a really simple way of generating HTML (HyperText Markup Language). If I write

##This is a title

Then save my post, it gets processed so that I get heading text that looks like this:

This is a title

Thats possibly the simplest ever example, but when you add in images, links, block quotes, emphasis etc it becomes a really succinct way of laying out a page.

Markdown really shines when compared to other methods of creating online content, such as wysiwyg editors..

..because rather than the editor trying to guess what you intend to select and how you would like to combine various styles and formats, it gets precise instructions. This means that the output from markdown is much more reliably standardised.

Standardisation is of course key to referencing and citation for academic works, and if a student/researcher is expected to be precise, then the explanation given to them must be equally precise. Whereas in most cases we are happy enough wysiwyg-ing our way through support resources, this is surely a situation where markdown can really help provide a structurally sound html base to create multiple citation examples etc. We can reliably style, highlight and comment them in detail, without worrying that the whole sections might (unnoticed) turn to gobbledy gook because I only selected 4 characters out of 5.

I should probably say here that I am well aware of the many brilliant reference management tools available to academics and students, and I realise they have the potential to take a lot of unnecessary faf out of preparing citations and bibliographies. There are however a lot of **different** tools, and they do not always have the same success manipulating bibliographic data, especially when captured from web resources. So it remains important to explain the principles of consistent referencing.


I am going to experiment with some simple extensions to markdown that will allow us to make concise, visually rich and interactive (tooltips) explanations for a confusing subject. I will write it up and share if and when I get that far.