Beginner’s Guide to Overleaf for Assignments, Part III

How to use Overleaf with Markdown

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As you may have figured out, Overleaf uses LaTeX to put together the documents. If you are not familiar with LaTeX (as it can be complex for you), you can use a powerful writing method to compose your documents, using Markdown syntax. That way you can write your text using plain text and mark up using the syntax of markdown. To learn more about markdown syntaxes, visit the to learn more about it. Essentially, you will use the following text marks:

Level one header: # 
Level two header: ##
Italicise: *text*
Bold: **text**
Bulleted lists:
* First item
* Second Item
Numbered lists:
1. First item
2. Second item
Add Figures:
![image alt name](image_file_name)
Add Links
[Link Name](Link URL)
Add Tables (see the note below)
Add Citations (see the note below)

As you can see, the syntax is simple and intuitive. The syntax is also such that you can easily read and interpret it in any text editor. Use a plain text editor such as Notepad (if you are working in Windows), or something like Textedit (if you are working in Mac) to write your paper. At this stage, you can write most of your text using the simple syntax to mark up your document, but you will need some modifications if you’d like to use Tables and citations in your documents. Here are some ways:

How to add Tables using the extended markdown syntax

If you want to add tables to a Markdown formatted document in plain text, one way to do this is as follows:

| Your Table Header | Your Table Header | 
|------------------ |-------------------|
| First Cell | Second Cell |
| Third Cell, etc | Fourth Cell |

You will see that this is relatively simple and you can easily write markdown formatted tables this way quickly. For a full list of specific features of markdown extra or how you can use various features of markdown that have been extended, you can view the following webpage:

The other way would be to use the tablesgenerator.com website and the following steps:

  1. Create the table in a spreadsheet programme
  2. Save the spreadsheet as csv file
  3. Visit the tablesgenerator.com and import the CSV file
  4. Format the table as a markdown table
  5. Then copy and paste the codes directly into your markdown document.

This way, you can write tables or insert tables into the markdown document directly and easily. The other way, if the document processor or markdown processor does not understand tables syntax is to use html tables. Yet another way might be to use tables saved as screenshots and saved as images and directly insert using the same way as you would insert images in the document anyway.

How can I insert Citations and Bibliography in Markdown?

Markdown (the pure Markdown without any extension) does not support insertion of citations. However, it does support footnotes and endnotes. You can use footnotes and endnotes in Markdown using the following syntax

[^1] Use this symbol to add an anchor and then at the end of the document, or where you want the footnote or the endnote appear, do:  [^1]: The text of the footnote or endnote

What this will do is to put a link (blue hyperlink) as a superscript, and then an arrow and then when the reader clicks the arrow, it will bring the reader down to the place where you have placed the footnote or endnote text. This is a simple workaround remembering that a long html document can be traversed this way. However, if you do this with the purpose of creating a bibliography, it will still be treated as adding a footnote or an endnote in your document.

A better way of doing the same thing is to use the LaTeX syntax. That is, save the citation or reference as a bibtex file and in the place where you want the citation to appear, do

\cite{citation_id}

and leave in the document. We shall discuss that markdown to LaTeX parsers such as Pandoc will leave this unchanged, or at least in the final LaTeX document, you should be able to find and replace with appropriate symbols.

What do I do next after writing the document in Markdown?

For this you will need the help of a programme referred to as Pandoc. You can learn more about Pandoc and obtain a copy of Pandoc from the following site:

Pandoc is available for all your platforms (Windows, Mac, and Linux) and you can even convert a markdown formatted document to LaTeX on the web. Try the following services:


You can then upload the Pandoc formatted LaTeX document directly to the filespace in Overleaf and work from there. You must also upload the bibtex file where you have the references and citations to make use of the bibliography commands.

Originally published at on August 7, 2016.

Associate Professor of Epidemiology and Environmental Health at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand. Also in:

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