If you haven’t tried a plain text editor, then joy awaits you. These apps are ideal for capturing ideas on the run and organizing them later.
What is Plain Text?
A plain text editor handles ASCII characters:
- The letters of the alphabet (upper and lower case)
- Punctuation marks
- Common symbols
- The numbers 0 through 9
What plain text does not offer is formatting—italics, bold, underlining, and different fonts and font sizes. Tables and images are a no-go as well.
Why Use Plain Text?
The limitations of plain text are also its strengths. In short, plain text is:
- Tiny. Plain text files are much smaller than Word documents—often half the size or less. As a result, plain text demands far less storage space.
- Fast. In Word, long documents take forever to load. With plain text, speed in opening and moving through your document is the norm.
- Portable. Most applications can retrieve plain text. In software, it’s a near-universal language.
- Future-proof. Plain text ain’t going away. Because it’s so basic, this format persists. In contrast, try opening a Word file that you created 10 years ago.
- Cheap. Laptop and desktop computers typically ship with a text editor included—TextEdit for Mac, Notepad for Windows. You get a powerful writing tool for free. You can buy text editors with more horsepower, but they’re still way cheaper than Word. For example, my favorite plain text editor for the Mac—iAWriter—is currently on sale for $5.
All of the above are potent advantages when it comes to curating your ideas.
You can keep these benefits and add formatting by using a text editor with Markdown capability. I’ll post about Markdown in the future, but for now check out:
- What Is Markdown, and Why Is It Better for My To-Do Lists Notes? by Thorin Klosowski
- The Beginner’s Guide to Writing With MultiMarkdown by Michael Hyatt
Some Plain Text Editors to Consider
Caveat: This is an incomplete list and skewed to Mac users. Just key plain text editor into a search engine and you’ll find many more.
First, I’ll list the text editors I’ve personally used:
- Notational Velocity. This was my go-to text editor for a long time. (Leo Babauta praised it here). Alas, there have been no updates for 3 years, and a couple features are broken. However, other developers have taken up the torch. One result is Brett Terpstra’s nvALT, which includes Notational Velocity’s features and adds more. (Michael Schechter offers useful tips for nvALT here.) For Windows users, there is ResophNotes.
- TextWrangler. Mac users can download this app for free. I’ve set mine up to look like Notational Velocity.
- iA Writer. Minimal. Beautiful. Cheap. Works on the iPad and iPhone as well.
Next, text editors that I haven’t used but other people rave about:
Finally, a few online text editors (I’ve not used them yet):
Where to Learn More
A Plain Text Primer by Michael Schechter