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Newbie working with plain text: best practices for formatting etc?

Hey all,

I've searched far and wide online and am really surprised not to find very much info on this (perhaps I'm using the wrong search terms!).

After reading Bit Literacy, I decided that I wanted to starting using plain text files more at work, especially for notes. Unfortunately, years of reading 43F has enhanced my fiddly nature, and I'm more focused on trying to format my notes "correctly," or at least to have some sort of standard to stick to.

Does anyone have any best practices (or web resources) for working with text on a page? Currently, I find text files difficult to read (and line breaks confusing).

Any thoughts?

Merlin's picture


Gee, thanks for the left-handed compliment. ;-)

But, seriously, I think you answered your own question here.

Whenever you look at planning stuff like this -- and this goes for tagging, filing, or any other kind of organizational widgetizing -- it's worthwhile to ask yourself what any extra layer of organization buys you and when you'll see that value. Examples.

If a given text file is just a flat dump of lines (grocery list, ideas for future blog entries), then you probably need zero organization. Just keep appending new lines.

If it's still a flat dump, but chronology is important, same goes. Just append to the bottom and maybe add a date header to each section. I like Markdown, so mine might look like:

### 2008-01-22 05:45:04
* foo
* bar
* bat

But then if you really need lots of organization inside the document, again, I'd go with Markdown or something similar that has syntax highlighting and semantic hooks inside your text editor of choice. E.G. when I write stuff in Markdown and use HTML "<Hn>"s like the one above, Textmate adds all those to a drop down menu that makes jumping thru the document very easy.

Just don't make this more complicated than it needs to be. Be crazy-consistent about how you name files (that's huge), but I wouldn't get too wound up about text formatting until patterns start to emerge from real-world usage. Then just go for consistency over fanciness.

stuff that might help:




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