Tools - Text Expansion

If you’ve known me for a while, I’ve probably bothered you to use a Text Expansion program. Since my efforts have not yet resulted in many conversions, I’ll try to inspire you here…

These programs help you typing oft-used phrases, correct spelling and can even be smart in the way they help you. In this article I will share the way I use TextExpander, but you can substitute this with a lot of other programs (for some reason, more for the Mac than for Windows). It’s one of the best reasons to use a computer instead of this:

Image: "Selectric II" by Etan J. Tal - Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Selectric_II.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Selectric_II.jpg

Image: "Selectric II" by Etan J. Tal - Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Selectric_II.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Selectric_II.jpg

Wth[ What the Hell is Text Expansion

A Text Expansion/replacement system lets you set abbreviations for text that you type. This combination is called a snippet. So, I type the abbreviation, and my ‘special key’, the [ and the computer spits out the right words, numbers or sentences.

Wth[ What the Hell do you need this for?

Well, you don’t need it of course. However, it can help you save quite a bit of time. My simplest example is my name. Whenever I have to type it, I key in mxv[, which expands to “Marnix van de Veen”. That’s 14e[ fourteen characters saved characters saved. If you count pressing the Shift button, it’s even more! By the way, anything italic that ends in [ in this blog post was typed using a snippet. Below are some simple snippets everyone should use in my opionion (text between parentheses is optional) and I’ve used Sherlock as an example:

sh (initials) Sherlock Holmes (full name)
s (first initial) Sherlock (first name)
st (221b) Baker Street Street
pc NW1 6XE Postal code
net (the) Netherlands
one
two
You know the drill
em e-mail address
url homepage
iban new way too complicated bank number
iphone iPhone
kr, Kind regards,

Longer snippets

Using these snippets will not only save you time, but also prevent spelling errors. That’s a great start. But… Text Expansion can do more! You can create multi-line snippets, so I can quickly type my e-mail signature sig[:

Marnix van de Veen
M@rnix.nl
+31 6 19 410 888
www.rnix.nl
@verbal_kint

If the field accepts html, I’ll use sigh[ instead:

<p>Marnix van de Veen<br>
<a href="mailto:m@rnix.nl">M@rnix.nl</a><br>
+31 6 19 410 888<br>
<a href="http://www.rnix.nl">www.rnix.nl</a><br>
<a href="http://www.twitter.com/verbal_kint">@verbal_kint</a></p>

See? That will give me nicely formatted html… This works in any program/browser/environment.

Special characters

You can insert special characters into your snippets. This means when I type kr[, it doesn’t just expand to "Kind regards," , but also inserts a ‘return’, so I’m starting a new paragraph after that. The same goes for tabs, and you can even choose where to put the cursor when you’re finished. So when I have to type a http: etc, I type h[ instead, and get http://www..com/ and my cursor will be inserted at the right place.

Context

TextExpander is smart. Ever need to insert the current date? Just type t[ and you’ll get 6 augustus 2014. Need a different notation?ymd[ gives 2014–08–06. W[ gives me the current week. Atm[ At the moment that’s 32. I can never remember that one. 

Code

Most of you know I’m not a coder. I can’t remember html for the life of me! I do most of my typing in Markdown (something for another blogpost), but when I need an html link I type link[, and I’ll get <a href=""></a> with the cursor in between > and < and my clipboard contents pasted in between the "s.

Combinations

When I start a new motivation letter for a job opening, I type moti[ (en is for English, I have a Dutch snippet as well) and get the following. The cursor is on the line below “Dear Sir/Madam,”. You see the date, multiple lines and cursor positioning.

Utrecht, Augst 6 2014

Dear Sir/Madam,

I’d love to show my skills and enthusiasm in person.

Sincerely,

Marnix van de Veen
+31 6 19 410 888
m@rnix.nl
rnix.nl

Getting started

As with all timesaving apps, it’s impossible to implement everything at once. So start simple. What are the things that you type most often? Start with just 5 snippets. My recommendation:

  1. Your name
  2. Your company name
  3. Your personal e-mail address
  4. Your work e-mail address
  5. ?

See how this works out, and expand from there.

Software

There are many Text Expansion options for the Mac:
- Built-in text replacement. Just go to System Prefererences >[ ➔ Keyboard >[ ➔ Text and you can create simple snippets. No fancy stuff. They sync to your iOS devices over iCloud. A great place to start!
TextExpander by Smile Software ($34.99). The old guy. You cannot go wrong with this one. Also syncs with an iOS counterpart which will get a lot better with iOS 8.
TypeIt4Me by Ettore Software ($19.99). Has most of the tricks of TextExpander. No iOS counterpart though.

I haven’t really looked into the Windows side of things, but this Lifehacker post should get you started.

Thats it! Have you got any great snippets I should use? Which of my ‘boring’ tools should I cover next? Let me know in the comments!