There are many benefits to using plain text, but why would you use plain text in an app like Evernote, which has a rich text editor? Maybe you want to avoid odd quirks that you occasionally encounter in the app. Or, you might want to “future-proof” your notes by making sure that they are compatible with another note-taking application if you ever need to migrate out of the service. Either way, in order to avoid the headaches that come with muddled formatting, I recommend writing your plain-text notes using something called “Markdown.”
The screenshot above shows the template for my daily journal (or “lifelog”) that I currently use. I have gone through several versions of it over the years, in the early days relying more on Evernote’s formatting to arrange the text. It has the plain text on the left and Markdown on the right in an app called VoodooPad. For the to-do list, I simply replace the circles with x’s when I have completed a task.
I also have the template as a shared note in Evernote for anyone who wants to use it, though you’ll probably want to translate the Japanese into English (ライフログ Lifelog, やる事リスト To-Do List, 活動ログ Activity Log, 研究ログ Research Log, 読書ログ Reading Log, 健康ログ Health Log (日付 date, 就床 sleep, 起床 wake, 睡眠 time slept, 体重 weight), 日記 Diary, その他 Other (関連ノート related notes and リファレンスコード reference codes)). Earlier iterations of my templates using Evernote’s formatting options can be found here.
Markdown has a simple goal — with a few unobtrusive combinations of characters we ought to enjoy using plain text with the ability to produce a formatted document as needed. Or, in the words of the developer, John Gruber: “The idea is that a Markdown-formatted document should be publishable as-is, as plain text, without looking like it’s been marked up with tags or formatting instructions.” A complete list of the Markdown syntax is available on John’s site. If you look closely at the screenshot above, you’ll notice a slight difference between the version of the journal on the left and the one on the right, but the extra characters are unobtrusive.
Markdown in Evernote
In Evernote, I often incorporate the following three items into my notes: hash tags for titles, dashes for bullet lists, and three dashes for lines to separate sections. For each level of an indent in a list, I use four spaces before the dash, but you can also use the tab key (on the Mac, at least), and it will copy/paste out of Evernote just fine. The screenshot below shows a note in Evernote on the Web.
See the links below (they are related to one another) for smoothing out the process of working with Markdown and Evernote. I don’t use these methods, but Brett (developer for nvALT) and Martin know their stuff, and it is worth taking a look at it.