Using Markdown in Email to Send Plain Text Messages

Plain text doesn't have to be illegible

Three computer monitors
JESPER KLAUSEN / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY / Getty Images

The Markdown language lets you compose a message in plain text while using specific symbols and combinations of symbols to indicate formatting, such as italics, bold, and underline. The advantage of using Markdown is that readers who receive the message in plain text can interpret your intended formatting, while those with email clients that read Markdown will see your message with your intended formatting applied without seeing the special characters. Using Markdown, you don't need to rely on a toolbar, formatting buttons, or memorized keyboard shortcuts to apply text formatting—you just type them in a.

Emails That Look Good in Plain Text and Formatted

Parts of Markdown, such as boldface and italics, for instance, can be interpreted in any email program.

Emphasis

  • Italics: Enclose the italicized text with a single asterisk (*) or underline symbol (_). For example:
    _italics_
    This will appear italics.
  • Boldface: Enclose the bolded text with two asterisks (**) or underline symbols (__). For example:
    **bold**
    This will appear as bold.
  • Bold and italics: Enclose the text with three asterisks (***) or three underline symbols (___). For example:
    ***bold and italics***
    This would be formatted as bold and italics.

Links

A web address: Enclose the URL with angle brackets, also known as greater than and less than symbols. For example: 

<http://example.com/>

This will appear as http://example.com.

Email address: Enclose the email address with angle brackets like you would with a URL. Example:

<me@exmple.com>

This is rendered as the clickable email link me@example.com.

Text link: Enclose the text for the link brackets, and immediately following the closing bracket, place the URL in parentheses:

[an example](http://example.com/)

This will appear as an example.

Quoted Text

Blockquote: Blockquoted text will be inset compared to the current message. This is often used when quoting text from previous emails. Start the quoted line with the greater than symbol (>):

> Original message

This would appear in blockquote formatting (which may vary in appearance depending on the email client):

Original message

​You can use multiple indentation characters (e.g., >> or >>>>) to increase the level of blockquote indentation.

Headlines

Headlines: For large headline text, use a hash symbol (#) followed by a space before the text to be a headline:

# Top Headline

This would be formatted as an H1 size headline, which can vary some between email clients, but would be a large font and bold. Adding additional hash symbols will make the headline text a step smaller as H2, H3, and even H4 size. For example:

### Third-level Headline

This would appear as an H3, third-tier headline.

Lists

Bulleted list: Precede each list item with an asterisk (*) or hyphen (-). For example:

* List
* Items

This would be formatted like this:

  • List
  • Items

Ordered list: Precede each item with a number and period. For example:

1. List
2. Items

This would be formatted as a numbered list:

  1. List
  2. Item

Paragraphs and Line Breaks

New paragraph: Simply separate paragraphs with an empty line. Example:

First
paragraph.
Second paragraph.

Line break: End a line with "  " (two whitespace characters) to insert a line break.

Images

Inline image: Start with an exclamation point (!) followed by brackets ([ and ]) enclosing the text that describes the image, followed by the URL where the image is located. For example:

![example picture](http://example.com/images/example.png)

Horizontal Rule

Put three or more asterisks (***) in a paragraph of their own to create a horizontal line across the page. For example:

Before the line.
* * * * * * * * *
After the line.