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Writing Tips and Tricks

Writing in Ulysses is done using plain text. This may seem strange is you’re used to a word processor like Pages or Microsoft Word, but there are a lot of advantages that using plain text offers. For one thing, plain text allows you to simplify your writing. Word processors make writing much more complicated and, therefore, much more cumbersome, making it even harder to get your words out. Plain text is also much less distracting. When you open up a word processor, you’re presented with multiple menu bars and a multitude of features, but plain text allows you to focus on the words themselves.

Plain text also allows you to separate the formatting from the actual writing. There are a lot of productivity benefits that come from focusing on the actual words and not what they will look like on the printed page. As a result of these benefits, writing in plain text is actually easier and faster than in a complicated word processor. Plain text also gives you flexibility when exporting and allows you to repurpose your text easily since it will be recognizable by just about any other application.

How do you mark up your text then? What if you want a header or you want to italicize your text? You can accomplish these goals in Ulysses by using simple Markdown formatting. Now, Markdown is a text-to-HTML conversion tool which is specifically designed for web writers. It was developed by John Gruber, and Markdown allows you to write using an easy-to-read, easy-to-write, plain text format, which can then be translated easily into HTML for publishing on the web or just about anywhere else. Here are some examples of how you can use Markdown formatting in Ulysses to style your text as you write it.

To markup a heading, start a line with one or more hashes. The number of hashes that you use when creating the heading corresponds to the heading’s hierarchical level. For example, type two hashes for a second-level heading or three hashes for a third-level heading and so on. If you want to emphasize a word or phrase or mark it up as important, you can do so with single underscores or asterisks for emphasis or double underscores or asterisks for importance. You can also use the standard keyboard shortcuts for both italicize and bold text where you select the text and then hit Command-I or Command-B, respectively.

You can also use Markup for lists. Both ordered and unordered lists can be created by simply typing dashes or numbers at the beginning of a line. You can also set it so that the lists will automatically continue on the next line if smart lists are enabled in the Edit menu. You can change this setting by going to the Edit menu and selecting Substitutions. If you want to create a block quote in order to highlight a quote from someone, simply start a line with the greater than character. To see a full list of available Markup options and select the one that you want to use without using the keyboard code, which could be helpful if you know what you want to do with your text but maybe you forgot the keyboard syntax, you can select it from the Markup menu.

While these definitions serve important purposes on screen, they become even more important when you export your text. Certain elements like comments or deletions, for example, are visible in some styles but not in others. For example, when creating a PDF with the Swiss Knife style applied, comments and deletions are going to be absent from the output file since this is a style which is meant to deliver a finalized PDF. When you use the Rough Cut style instead, comments will be included since that style is meant to be used for printed drafts.

In addition to just the words, Ulysses also allows you to include other elements in your writing called text objects. These are displayed in Ulysses as colored bubbles. They are a bit different from standard text markup as you can double-click a text object and add additional content like a picture for an image link or a URL for a hyperlink. The process for creating these text objects, though, is very simple. To add a link, type square brackets around a word or phrase that you want to appear as a link or select the text and use the Command-K shortcut. This will open a popover which lets you add the URL that you want to link to. If you type curly brackets around a phrase instead, you will create an annotation, which is basically a note that will be added to the phrase.

You can also add images or footnotes to your text. You can add an image by going to the Markup menu and selecting Image by dragging the image into your text or by typing IMG between brackets. You can add footnotes by typing FN between parentheses, filling in the text in the popover, and then hitting Command-Enter to add the footnote.

Ulysses also allows you to use more advanced Markdown elements in your writing, but the Markup section contains 90% of what you would ever need, and you can reference the Markup section quickly and easily by hitting Command-9.


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