Writing in Medium

We’ve made the best writing tool on the web.

Ev Williams
4 min readNov 15, 2012


We set out to build the best publishing platform for on the web — or anywhere — for words and pictures, and that started with the writing experience itself. Here’s our approach and what we’ve built so far.

WYSIWYG (Really)

“Wiz-ee-wig” is short-hand in software for “what you see is what you get.” As I’m writing this, I see not just a WYSIWYG editor, I see the page I’m going to publish, which looks just like the version you’re reading. In fact, it is the version you’re reading. There’s no layer of abstraction. This is a simple (and old) concept, but I haven’t seen it in any other publishing tool—unless you count Google Docs and the like, where you’re basically always in editing mode (versus always in viewing mode). It makes a big difference. Having to go back and forth between your creation tool and your creation is like sculpting by talking.

There are those who would argue that when you’re writing, you’re creating the words—the story—not the presentation. Certainly, professional writers tend to be comfortable with that (perhaps because they know there’s a production process that will make their work look good). And there’s a good argument that content should be able to flow to many forms and presentations. I agree with that, but I still like writing in at least one of the many possible nice presentations.

Just the Right Amount of Formatting

Confession: One of the reasons its possible to have this really WYSIWYG experience is because we’ve stripped out a lot of the power that other editors give you. Here are things you can’t do: change fonts, font color, font size. You can’t insert tables or use strikethrough or even underline. Here’s what you can do:

  • bold
  • italics
  • subheads (two levels)
  • links
  • lists
  • blockquotes:

“It’s true: Medium has the best web-based editor I’ve ever seen. And I’ve seen them all.” - Anil Dash

The way you do those things is by selecting some text, which causes a nice little toolbar to come up (you can also use keyboard shortcuts):

The in-context
Medium toolbar

As you can see, you can also insert images. And if you want to display some code?

You can make it look like this by selecting the text and hitting ctrl+6.

Lastly, if you want a nice section separator, just hit return twice, which results in one of these:

While we’ll be rolling out more formatting tools over time, the goal is to keep it very simple. I’m one of those people who will open up Word and spend half my time defining styles and adjusting the spacing between paragraphs. This is a terrible distraction and a waste of time—but it still feels necessary when the defaults aren’t good. With Medium, we’re making great defaults and letting you not worry about it.

Why format at all?

I like tools like iA Writer. And I respect people who are geeky enough to write in Markdown comfortably. I don’t think most people are like that. Whenever I write in iA Writer, I get to a point where I really want to add links, italicize things, and create subheads. Seeing those things helps me think about what I’m writing by taking out a level of abstraction.

I find that the happy medium (yes, I did that) between no formatting and full control is the most efficient and comfortable place to live. Once you get used to it, everything else feels like stepping back in time.

Typographical Niceties

I’m not a huge type geek—but some of my best friends are. There are a couple things I find important and a pain in the ass in many editors, though: Smart quotes (that’s “this” not "this") and em dashes (that’s — not -- ). The Medium editor makes both of these automatic.

More to Come

We have a bunch more ideas on how to make this editor even better—allowing people to let their brilliance and creativity flow smoothly onto the screen. We will evolve the editor to add power and flexibility without adding complexity or distraction.

Already, Medium has become my favorite place to write. (I may be slightly biased.) I hope it will soon be yours too.




Ev Williams

Curious human, chairman @ Medium, partner @ Obvious Ventures