Using TextExpander Snippets in Non-traditional Ways


TextExpander is one of the first apps that I install when I get a new device. I have written about TextExpander in the past. A brief excerpt from a prior post regarding TextExpanders functionality is below1 (Full post here):

One of the applications that I cannot live without is TextExpander. The application’s primary purpose is to expand snippets of text through simple key combinations (e.g., ty = Thank You!) but it does much more. TextExpander is available on the Mac, iOS, and Windows (in beta).

TextExpander’s core functionality sounds simple; but, its uses are limited only by your imagination. As an academic, I have used TextExpander in an academic setting for over five years. I use TextExpander for all its typical use cases (e.g., general text replacement, email responding) but also use it in ways specific to academics that I detail below.

TextExpander Can Expand in the Comment Fields of Most Word Processing Applications

TextExpander snippets will expand anywhere you can type (baring some password fields)2, including the comment fields of most word processing applications. As an academic, I often comment on drafts of manuscripts using the comment function of Microsoft Word and Apple’s Pages applications. Prior to TextExpander, this meant invoking my comment keyboard shortcut3 and then typing in the comment. While this method works, it is not efficient. For instance, grading a stack of 40 papers leads to repetitive typing of phrases in comment boxes (e.g., This is a sentence fragment; This is an awkward sentence. Consider rewording it for clarity). Using TextExpander, I can create a comment, populate the comment with a snippet, and continue editing the paper without removing my hands from the keyboard4. This method is extremely fast and efficient once the commonly used editing snippets are committed to muscle memory. Additionally, students and colleagues receive better more consistent feedback when I use TextExpander to comment on papers. More complex snippets can also be expanded in comment fields. For example, cursor placement works in comment fields allowing you customize your comment snippets on a per comment basis5. Below is an example of one such workflow:

Click here to download some of my example snippets for commenting on papers. Note that these are geared toward college students using the American Psychological Association (APA) writing format.

TextExpander Can Help Write the Results Sections of Empirical Manuscripts

TextExpander can also format statistical results sections for publication in academic journals. For example, I often need to write results sections that involve statistical symbols and specific formatting (e.g., F(2,34)=235, p=.002). While not complicated, these results sections take time. With TextExpander, I can invoke a snippet for a particular statistical test, fill-in the relevant details (e.g., test statistic, degrees of freedom), and let TextExpander take care of formatting the text correctly (including those hard to find statistical symbols6). I have a TextExpander snippet for each statistical test I typically use to analyze my data. An example of using TextExpander to write up an analysis of variance (ANOVA) in APA format is below:

TextExpander Can Help Analyze Statistically Analyze Data

Another uncommon, but useful, place snippets come are useful is when writing statistical syntax (read coding here) in SPSS or the open source language R. Both of these instances require repeatedly writing syntax in a structured way. Using TextExpander dramatically speeds up the process of writing code to analyze data in R or in the syntax window of SPSS. Using TextExpander frees you from having to remember the specific syntax for any single analysis. Instead, you need only remember the brief keyboard snippets and fill in details like variable names. For example, I invoke the t-test keyboard snippet, fill in the variables in the analysis and TextExpander fills in the code for me7. Below is an example of this process using TextExpander to compose syntax for an independent samples t-test in SPSS.

TextExpander Synergy

Finally, the application really begins to shine when it is paired with other productivity applications like Sanebox and OmniFocus. Combining these applications allows a single snippet accomplish multiple tasks. For example, invoking a single snippet can fill in an email recipients email address, add the task to your OmniFocus database (i.e., populate the “BCC” field with your OmniFocus specific email address), set a reminder to follow-up with the recipient if the email is not answered (i.e., using a specific Sanebox email address), and compose the subject and body of the email.

Note: All of the examples contained in this post should be viewed as general productivity strategies. That is, I may be using TextExpander to format statistical prose for academic journals. However, what you should be taking away from the examples is the strategy rather than the specifics. Anytime you have text that must be formatted in a specific way, TextExpander can make that process more efficient.

  1. David Sparks (MacSparky) has done some great videos for Smile (the company that makes TextExpander) on the basics of TextExpander. If you are a newcomer to TextExpander they are worth your time.  
  2. I have yet to find a place outside of password fields and the name field of some apps like editorial where TextExpander snippets fail to expand.  
  3. I strongly suggest creating a keyboard shortcut to create comments in your word processing programs as it makes commenting on manuscripts significantly faster. Create the shortcut using the same key combination across programs so you only need to learn one keyboard shortcut and can use it across multiple pieces of software.  
  4. The workflow involves opening a comment through a keyboard shortcut, invoking the TextExpander snippet, and hitting the escape key to return curser focus to the body of your document.  
  5. An example workflow might be to copy a portion of text to the clipboard, invoke the comment field, and type a TextExpander snippet that fills in some text and pastes the contents of the clipboard into the comment following the written text.  
  6. I also have simple TextExpander snippets that simply replace regularly used statistical items (aalpha expands to the statistical symbol for alpha)  
  7. Although I have not tried it, this whole process could likely be completed using Keyboard Maestro (with the addition of actually running the code once it’s produced). 



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