TextExpander: Typing Shortcut Utility

TextExpander has always on the top of my must-have Mac software list. The basic functionality is simple: you type certain characters, and TextExpander replaces those characters with something else. As you can see in the screenshot above, a simple use for this is to fix commonly mistyped words. But that’s barely scratching the surface of what TextExpander offers. 

The next obvious set of shortcuts are email address and other contact info. I use the format @xyz for all my email addresses. My Gmail address has a shortcut of @gm. I also have to type my website URLs quite often so those all have snippets with shortcuts using the format //xyz. This blog’s shortcut is //ov (for The Overthinker). I type //ov, TextExpander replaces it with https://georgecoghill.wordpress.com.

Just these shortcuts are worth the price of the software. In fact, TextExpander didn’t do much more than this when I first started using it if I recall correctly. But Smile Software has been adding some powerful features as of late. One of the best basic features is the clipboard functionality. TextExpander snippets can work with text on the OS X Clipboard, and inserted into snippets.

A simple use for this would be hyperlinks in HTML code. A snippet with the format of <a href="%clipboard">%|</a> and a shortcut of ,a would let you type the shortcut ,a and those characters would be replaced by the previous code, with the contents of the Clipboard inserted where the %clipboard characters are, and the %| characters tell TextExpander to place the cursor in that spot, where you add your link text. Obviously you want to copy the URL first.

Let’s take that a step further to introduce Fill-In Snippets. Fill-In Snippets are a recent feature that allow you to specify positions in the snippet where you want a text field prompt to appear. For the hyperlink HTML code, let’s add a Fill-In Snippet that prompts us for the title tag of the link.

The snippet looks like this: <a title="%fill:title attribute%" href="%clipboard">%|</a>

With a URL on the clipboard, when expanded this snippet will insert the URL in the proper location in the code, and also pop up a prompt window asking you to fill in the text for the title tag, and then insert the entire string of characters into your document. Here’s what it looks like:

After inserting the character string, TextExpander then places the cursor before the closing </a> tag so I can enter my link text. If you’re a coder, I’m sure you can see how this can be taken even further, and also applied to many different frequently used chunks of code. Fill-in Snippets go even further, with options for a pop-up menu of multiple chunks of text to choose from, as well as optional sections that you can toggle on/off. I use a combo of all of these for replies to project inquiries, with fill-in areas for the client’s name, the estimated start time, as well as various paragraphs of text that differ depending on the project details. TextExpander is excellent for any chunks of text that you send all the time, but need to be tweaked slightly.

I also use TextExpander for phrases and sentences I type often, like “ttt” for “Thanks!” or “osxx” for “OS X”.

I’ve found that keeping a consistent shortcut format for related information is key to remembering and learning your snippets. For example, all my email addresses use the format @xyz, all my URLs are formatted //xyz, chunks of text are usually xyz// and so on. A recent tip that has proven useful is to duplicate the ending letter. As in the “osxx” example above, a shortcut like “Macc” could be used for “Mac OS X”, since often I find myself partially typing something I realize I’ve set up a snippet for. Another tip is to double-up letters for two-word snippets, like “ggcc” for “George Coghill” or “aapp” for “Adobe Photoshop”. I also use “psd//” for “Adobe Photoshop” since its the easily-remembered filename extension.

TextExpander goes even beyond what I’ve covered here, with support for AppleScript and shell scripts, as well as formatted text and inserting images. But the above should get you started, and from there you can start to dig deeper into more advanced uses of TextExpander. There are some awesome advanced snippets like the Amazon affiliate link generator that reveal the power and levels of geek you can get to with TextExpander. There’s a free demo of TextExpander on the site, so there’s no reason to give it a go. And be sure to check out all my TextExpander posts here on the blog.

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