Why work with Plain Text?

It is perhaps plain as its adjective suggests:

  • No aesthetics;
  • No obvious benefit as it lacks a navigational structure; and even more,
  • No appeal.

So why would one take his or her time to even consider thinking about the possibility of working with plain text?

This post is going to show you why plain text, rather than rich text, is the foundation of the information age.

What it is

Plain text is text without any aesthetics: which means it is not bolded nor is it italicised to convey meaning.

When stored in a file, it often has the file extension .txt (for text). This is especially true on Windows where file extensions play a major part in picking a file handler. 1 However, other extensions can be used, or none at all on *Nix-based platforms.

Almost every word-processing application, such as Microsoft Word, Libre Office or Emacs can open a plain text document. However, below, we will be listing the default plain text editors that come built into your computer.

Default ProgramOperating System
TextEditMac OS X

Practical Uses of Plain Text

You cannot write your essay or assignment using plain text, unless you want to process it further as will be discussed below.

Due to its simplicity and plainness, text is so expressive that it can be used to do such things as

Writing Source Code
Every program that you run on your computer is first written as source code. That is to say, code that is human-readable. It uses some form of programming language, be it compiled or interpreted, to be translated into machine-readable code. Plain text is used to achieve this as what you see on the screen is what is written in the file. Unlike rich text documents, where what appears on the screen may be a result of some background instruction you are not seeing.
Creating Document Markup
Markup refers to a set of codes that have to be interpreted by a host such as a browser for presentation. Markup is at the heart of rich text documents. In future posts, I will discuss some of the popular markup languages as a series.
Taking down notes
Due to its simplicity, plain text takes less time to load. In fact, plain text editors have low memory footprint as compared to their rich text cousins. That lends them well for quick notetaking and todo lists.


This post introduced you to the world of plain text. In future posts, we will be looking at what you can do with plain text, especially as someone with visual impairment, the benefits you can reap in preferring text over rich text.

Let me take this opportunity to announce that this blog will be changed to focus more on text-processing. We will be covering everything from opening text, searching text and even working with regular expressions.

Be safe, and thanks for reading this post.

  1. A program used to open a given file type. ↩︎

  2. Although Linux comes with other programs such as Nano, VIM and Plumer depending with the distro ↩︎

Ishe Chinyoka
Ishe Chinyoka
Access Technology Instructor

My research interests include operating systems, access technology, programming, and science fiction.