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I've heard from a few sources who wax lyrical about how text expansion software has been for them - but I'm struggling to find good uses for it - the only use I can see is to save me writing out my address on a regular basis but I'm not sure. What are good time saving uses for this type of tool?

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I think text expansion is most useful on mobile devices, for example the text expansion function baked into iOS 5. Typing on mobile devices is easier than it used to be in the T9 days, but it's still nowhere as fast as on a real keyboard.

Some snippets on my iPhone that I've found especially useful:

  • user name - I use the same user name on a lot of sites and being able to type it with two characters is nice; especially because iOS apps are sandboxed, which means you often have to sign into the same service (e.g. facebook) in multiple apps. I even have one log-on that requires a special character in the name, so a snippet here saves multiple extra taps.
  • email address - this is even more useful because I'm often typing my email where I won't get the contextual keyboard (e.g. an email text field). Not having to do multiple taps to get to the @ symbol is nice.
  • address
  • phone numbers
  • fussy punctuation - I have shortcuts set up for ie > i.e. and eg > e.g., since adding those periods takes two taps each. I even added one for In-N-Out burger, since with all the dashes and caps that takes forever to type. That one might be an edge case.

But the most important thing when using snippets is to define the snippet sensibly. Of course you'll remember the ones you use a lot, but if you define snippets to be what you're going to type when you've forgotten about the snippet entirely, then you'll get a pleasant surprise when the correct thing is inserted.

And remember it's perfectly fine to have multiple snippets re-direct to the same expansion, which makes it all them more robust.

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I use text expansion all the time for:

  • Repetitive emails. Responses to common questions, templates for checking in on assignments with teammates, and templates for scheduling meetings are all candidates for text expansion. If I typed something similar this week, it probably is worth a snippet.
  • Stock phrases. My company name, website, and email address all get snippets because I need to use them a lot. Even if it's only a few keystrokes, I never have to worry about typos. I also use some specialized vocabulary in my publications, so those terms or phrases get snippets.
  • Typos. There's a handful of words that I mistype on a semi-regular basis. If I had to correct the typo earlier that day, it's worth setting up a snippet.
  • Repetitive feedback. Often times I am asked to review pieces of writing by others, and it's extraordinarily easy to do so with snippets. As soon as I've made a comment two or three times, it gets a snippet. Sometimes the snippet is good as-in (e.g., This is a comma splice; correct it by either changing the comma to a semicolon or breaking the sentence into two); other times I'll leave a blank to fill in (e.g., You need more detail with this example; [here's the part I was confused about]).

What transformed text expansion for me was memorizing the shortcut to create a snippet. Knowing how to create a snippet in just a couple of keystrokes made it so effortless that I don't care if I don't use the snippet again. It's such a small investment of time that I find lots of small uses for snippets, and those small uses add up quickly.

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I have tried one or two of them in the past and did not think it was worth the effort. Browsers would be the main place I'd use text expansion, but they have autofill built-in now. I reinstall my O/S's every 6 months or so and move address regularly so there would be a bit of maintenance involved too.

Regular text like my name and address I've typed in so many times in my life that it's just about instantaneous entry anyway, compared to thinking about what keystroke combination you've assigned which changed from last week because it clashed with some new program you've installed.

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If you're willing to accept the security risk of

  • using the same password over and over again
  • storing that unencrypted on your device

You can use a textexpander to store passwords. That way, you can keep a very complex password but assign a short keystroke, giving a kind of "two-factor authentication."

Imagine, for example, a complex password like:


you could assign that to !4 on your text expander, and easily enter it.

If you lose your device, you are screwed, but the password itself is highly complex.

You can also mitigate the issue by adding additional characters afterwards for different sites.

Regardless, you only need to remember two keys - !4 and your text expander.

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