YAML & Markdown

Understand the basics of working in plain-text format

Understand the basics of working in plain-text format

Content is stored in two different plain-text formats in Quire: YAML (yam-ul) for data, and Markdown for more narrative or textual content. Markdown is used in standalone .md files in the content directory of every Quire project. YAML is found in .yml files in the data directory, in the configuration files, and at the top of every Markdown file.

YAML Basics

YAML is designed to be a plain-text way of capturing data. The general principal is to have the name of a data item (a key), followed by a colon, a space, and then the data item’s value. A key-value pair.

title: My Book

Each line in YAML is a new item. Dashes represent individual items in a list. In the example below, there are two contributors, each with a first and last name.

  - item_name:
  - item_name:

Note that indentations matter in YAML. If any of the items above were indented even just one space more or less from where they are, the YAML would not be formatted correctly, and the Quire preview and output functions would not work. YAML items and list items should always line up with one another.

  • Improperly formatted YAML can temporarily break Quire functionality. Copy and paste your YAML blocks into a validator like the Code Beautify YAML validator to make sure there aren’t any hidden errors.

YAML can include multiple, markdown-style paragraphs by using a pipe character, dropping down a line, and indenting one level. This can be used in areas like captions, descriptions, and abstracts.

item: |
  Using a pipe character, and then dropping down a line
  and indenting like this allows you to include multiple
  paragraphs, just as you would in Markdown.

  Not all Quire YAML attributes expect Markdown though,
  so check the docs.

  - Markdown style lists
  - and other formatting are
  - also allowed

YAML block entries can be in any order. It doesn’t matter if you write:

title: Cheatsheet
type: page


type: page
title: Cheatsheet

Certain formatting and characters (like colons within the text, or lines leading off with asterisks meant to italicize some of the text) can cause issues. In the example above, title: My Chapter without My Chapter in quotes works just fine, but more complicated cases might arise. In these cases, double quotes will help to avoid issues.

description: "*My Chapter* is about colons :)"

Anything can go within double-quotes, except for other double-quotes. If you need double-quotes, use “curly quotes”, or use a backslash to escape the double quote \".

title: "“Ah ha!” Amazing Double-quote (\") Tricks!"
  • Our Top 3 YAML Tips:
    1. Use quotes around item values
    2. Watch horizontal spacing to make sure things line up
    3. Check your YAML with a validator

Markdown Basics

Markdown is designed to be a simple, plain-text markup language that uses a few text rules to structure content for easy conversion into HTML. Writing in Markdown should be thought of as giving your content structure, not style. You use Markdown to indicate what’s a heading, what’s a list, etcetera. Quire’s themes and stylesheets then control what those headings, lists, and other elements look like, from device to device and format to format.

Special characters like en- and em-dashes, and diacritics work fine in Markdown and in Quire publications. Any character is allowed. The only limitation, for less common characters, is whether the font you’re using includes it. When a font does not include a specific character, most browsers will substitute one from a different font.

The following sections detail the most commonly used Markdown tags.


Individual paragraphs are created with double line breaks.

This is the first paragraph.

This is the second.

This is the first paragraph.

This is the second.


Headings are created with hashmarks. The number of hashmarks corresponds to the level of the heading you want.

### Heading 3
#### Heading 4
##### Heading 5

Heading 3

Heading 4

Heading 5

Start your content headings with Heading 2 tags rather than Heading 1. Heading 1 should be reserved for the page title and will be automatically generated in Quire. And, for truly accessible documents, headings should be thought of as levels of your content outline, not as sizes large to small. See our Accessibility Principals for more on this.

Italic and Bold

Italics and bold are created with asterisks.

*Italic Text*
**Bold Text**

Italic Text

Bold Text


Blockquotes (indented blocks of text) are created with the right caret, or greater-than sign.

> Blockquote


Links are created with text in brackets followed immediately by a url in parentheses.

[Link Text](http://www.linkadress.com)

Link Text


Dashes and numbers create lists. Indenting creates nested lists.

- dashes
- make
  - a list
  - with
  - bullets
  • dashes
  • make
    • a list
    • with
    • bullets
1. numbers make
2. a list with
3. numbers
  1. numbers make
  2. a list with
  3. numbers


Precede footnote numbers with an up-arrow accent (^) and then surround it in square brackets. Footnote number one would be [^1], number two would be [^2], and so on.

At the end of the page, usually under a “Notes” heading, add the corresponding note with the same marker followed by a colon and the note text.

## Notes

[^1]: The footnote itself is the same thing as the footnote
number reference in the text, but with a colon followed by
the footnote text

Footnotes can also include Markdown formatting, including lists and even multiple paragraphs. For these, indent the content inwards two levels and put a line space in between the paragraphs just as you would elsewhere.

## Notes

    Footnotes with multiple paragraphs

    Are indented in twice, and have line breaks between.

    - Markdown lists
    - work like this in footnotes
    - as well
  • The built-in will automatically renumber footnotes in the order they appear in the text. It will also always put the footnotes at the very end of your content, no matter where you may try to put them.

Markdown Special Cases

Markdown and HTML

You can also use HTML tags in a Markdown file. This can be convenient for adding HTML elements that Markdown doesn’t support, or for applying special styling. For instance, by wrapping text with a <span> tag with a class in order to add custom styling. (See more about this in the Styles Customization chapter of this guide.) Note, however, that you can do the same by wrapping multiple paragraphs of Markdown in <div>, <section> or other block-level tags. For this, you need the q-class shortcode.

  • For the things Markdown can’t do, Quire includes number of useful . You’ll read more about them in other chapters of this guide. A complete list is available in the shortcode reference section.

Fractions, Superscripts, and Subscripts

The fractions 1/4, 1/2, and 3/4, will be automatically converted into proper, Unicode fractions (1/4, 1/2, 3/4). Other Unicode fractions can also be used in Markdown directly, though note that not all fonts support the eighths in which case, browsers will render them with a default font. The fractions are: ¼, ½, ¾, ⅛, ⅜, ⅝, ⅞. Any others would need to be written using superscript and subscript formatting.

While some Markdown processors support superscript and subscript formatting with ^ and ~ characters, the one built into Quire does not. You’ll need to use the HTML <sup> and <sub> tags in your Markdown. For example:

  • 19 × 24<sup>3</sup>⁄<sub>16</sub> inches = 19 × 24316 inches
  • 20<sup>th</sup> Century Sculpture = 20th Century Sculpture
  • Chrome yellow (PbCrO<sub>4</sub>) = Chrome yellow (PbCrO4)

You will see a fractions attribute with a value of “false” in the config.yml file of your publication. Changing this to true will automatically render fraction-style superscript and subscript formatting for anything written as an integer followed by a slash and another integer. However, in many instances this will catch things that are not meant to be fractions. For this reason, we recommend leaving fractions set to false, and manually adding the necessary markup as it’s needed.

Markdown Gotchas

  1. The built in Markdown processor will incorrectly create links even if there is a space between the bracketed text and the parentheses. For instance, a footnote reference number [^1] followed by a space and any text in parentheses, will incorrectly format as a link: [^1] (Some aside text here). To avoid this, you can use the HTML entity reference, &#40;, for the first parentheses, or a backslash escape character before the first parentheses.

    [^1] &#40;Some aside text here)
    [^1] \(Some aside text here)
  2. (c) will automatically render as ©.

Markdown Preview

Many text editors offer a preview function for Markdown, either pre-installed or as an add-on. In Atom for instance, a Markdown file can be previewed by selecting Packages > Markdown Preview > Toggle Preview (or just Shift-Control-M). The preview won’t match the style of your publication site, but will have default styling for headings, blockquotes, links and the like to allow you to confirm proper formatting.

Outside of more code-driven text editors, there are also a growing number of Markdown-specific editors. Typora, for instance, offers a single-page live preview by displaying styled Markdown-formatted text as you type it.

Markdown Output Configuration

Hugo has a built-in Markdown processor, , which comes with some configuration options that can be applied in your project’s config.yml file. Details can be found in the Hugo documentation.

By default, in the config.yml file of your Quire project, ’s fraction option has been set to false (text that looks like a fraction won’t be automatically formatted as such), and the hrefTargetBlank option set to true (external links will open in new windows/tabs).

Markdown Resources

This guide doesn’t cover all existing Markdown tags, but there are some good sources that will help you find the right syntax to format your text. For example, the Programming Historian provides an introductory lesson to Markdown, and John Gruber, the creator of Markdown, provides a comprehensive explanation of the basics and syntax on his personal site Daring Fireball.

Be aware of the multiple Markdown flavors out there and the fact that not all flavors are supported by Blackfriday.

Microsoft Word to Markdown Conversion

Commonly, project content will start from Microsoft Word documents rather than being written originally in Markdown. In these cases, a simple file conversion using can be done.

There are some easy things you can do in the Word document prior to conversion to ensure the best possible results:

  • We recommend not inserting any images and media into the Word document before conversion.
  • Headings should be formatted by applying Word styles instead of by manually changing font formats.
  • Don’t use any font color or color highlighting, it will not convert to Markdown.
  • Save as .docx rather than .doc

While there are a number of free tools, we recommend using Pandoc, which is included with the basic Quire installation and can be used through the command-line. To convert, open your , use the cd (change directory) command to move to the folder where your .docx documents are saved, and enter the applicable Pandoc command:

To convert a single Word document (in this example it has a file name of MyFile.docx) into Markdown:

pandoc --atx-header --wrap=none -s MyFile.docx -t markdown-smart -o MyFile.md

To convert all the Word documents in the folder and compile them into a single Markdown document:

pandoc --atx-header --wrap=none -s *.docx -t markdown-smart -o MyFile.md

To convert all the Word documents in the folder into individual Markdown files:

for f in *.docx; do pandoc --atx-header --wrap=none "$f" -s -t markdown-smart -o "${f%.docx}.md"; done

Note that the --atx-header and --wrap=none options in the above commands are optional, but recommended for Quire.

  • Quire uses , these are specified adding --atx-header to the command.
  • The lines of a Pandoc-generated file are 80 characters long. Adding the option --wrap=none to the command will override the default wrapping making easier to work with your files in the .

The order of the extensions doesn’t matter, and you can either type:

pandoc --atx-header --wrap=none -s MyFile.docx -t markdown -o MyFile.md


pandoc -s MyFile.docx -t markdown --atx-header --wrap=none -o MyFilemd