I am grappling with some questions about markdown formatting from my users - very succinctly framed in the quoted text below, with names changed. How do you respond to questions like these that are pretty valid? Generally speaking I tell them that this is expected behavior of markdown and they have to learn and use markdown, but that only goes so far to help them.
One thing I note is that the markdown editor toolbar handles some things amazingly well, like links, but falls down on other things, like selecting some text and changing to bullet points, or selecting multiple lines of text and bolding or italicizing.
Also a new complaint that is cropping up is that copy/pasted text from outlook or word are truncated, with some long and some short lines.
I wanted to clarify the troubles Bar and Foo had, since there seemed to be some confusion over the phone. I observed these troubles because I was in the same room as Bar as she was struggling with the site, and Foo chimed in that she had similar problems.
- Both were inputting into the left pane in the browser. They both understand that they are supposed to use markdown in the left pane, that it has its own syntax, and that the preview appears on the right. They understand the basic syntax. They both are on board with using the website to format more complicated emails to groups. Here were a few of their problems.
- Foo had several separate lines that she had copied over from an email. The equivalent of several one-line paragraphs. She highlighted them all and tried to italicize them. But instead of being italicized, asterisks appeared at either end of her selection in the preview pane as well as in the input pane (not, as she expected, asterisks in the input pane and italics in the preview pane). She had to go in to each individual line and italicize them independently. The same applied to italicizing multiple bulletpoints at once. She had to do it individually to each bulletpoint. There were a lot of lines - it took a lot of time. Any way to italicize a lot of text at once?
- Foo said that she wanted to put in more break spaces in her message, especially after a dividing line. She said that once she used
<br>and it worked great. But she’s since tried recreating it and it doesn’t work. How does someone use html formatting in Discourse? Do you have to press a certain button to make an html tag recognizable as html?
- Foo said she understands if there are limitations to the formatting options, but it would be nice if there was a reference guide to how the markdown syntax works in discourse - what you can and cannot do and how. So she knows whether she’s trying to do something impossible, or if there is indeed a better way of doing things. I agree!! Can you share a guide to markdown as it works in Discourse? I don’t expect you to make one - hopefully one already exists.
- Bar was having trouble getting “Undo” to work. Sometimes it worked, and sometimes it did not. I just tried it now (Command+Z) and it did not work. Under what conditions does Undo work? How do you undo formatting when writing in the browser?
- Both Bar and I had several lines we wanted to convert to bulletpoints. In Gmail or Word, you highlight those lines, click the bulletpoint button, and voila, each line gets converted to a bulletpoint. Not so with Discourse. If you highlight several lines, then press the bulletpoint button, all the lines are combined into one bulletpoint. Alternatively, if you place your cursor at the point in a paragraph that you want separated into a new bulletpoint (not highlighting anything, just pressing the bulletpoint button), it pushes your text down and inserts a bullet point with the words “List item” afterwards. Then you have to go and delete the words “List item” and move your text to that spot. Again, we understand if there are limits to this syntax, but we want to make sure we’re not missing anything - Is there an easy way to make multiple bulletpoints at once? Let us know and we will happily apply it.
I think those were the problems I observed.
Edit: here’s what I wrote to them now as a start:
It’s going to be hard for us to satisfy everyone, unfortunately, and especially people embedded in the Microsoft Outlook/Word world are going to resist and be frustrated. There is no silver bullet to just ‘fix’ this so it behaves the same as Outlook/Word.
Instead, we need to build up a team of moderators who understand and buy into how discourse works who can gently nudge and train new people as well as help with editing/fixing formatting when it goes awry.
If you have a long text prepared in Word you can convert it! I found a two-step way to do it that works pretty well for me but may be a bit much to ask non-techies who fear HTML.
- step 1: convert to HTML by copying/pasting your word document into http://word2cleanhtml.com/
But on the other hand, if you have very long text you want to share, maybe it’s best to save it as an attachment and to write a shorter post in discourse introducing it.