Minimalist text expansions, a TextExpander experiment

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So I’ve been conducting an experiment: using TextExpander for what it was originally designed for. I’ve slowly been building a set of shortcuts for common and already short words that I type frequently. Actually getting around to trying this was inspired by TextExpander’s recent addition of alerts when you type something enough times that it decides you might as well make a snippet for it.

Yes, I know, this was the whole point of text expansion. I never gave it much of a try, though, because I immediately jumped into expanding large chunks of repetitive text, or doing complex tricks with dates and times (I even have one that generates a Marked 2 license via the Paddle API and writes out an email when a customer requests a cross-grade). And TextExpander’s evolution as a product has encouraged my pursuit of complex snippets with additional scripting languages and features. Thus, saving time on typing single words never seemed that useful.

I started thinking about it more after a conversation with a Systematic guest. It wasn’t in the show, but he was talking about using Vim for writing, and the shortcuts he had programmed in it. It got me thinking that I could at least give it a shot and see. Thus far I still feel like I’m in the adoption phase, but I’m definitely seeing some benefits. Words like “definitely” and “necessarily” do slow my typing down as I leave the thought briefly and spell the word out in my head as I hit the keys.

Configuring abbreviations I’ll remember has been interesting. I’m very used to remembering the shortcuts for my more complex tools, but having a flurry of abbreviations while doing normal typing is taking some getting used to. Fortunately, TextExpander now has the ability to automatically remind me about a shortcut when I type one of the words I’ve shortened.

I’m not ready to publish a group of these yet. More than anything, I’m just putting the idea out there and looking for ideas a feedback on it. Here are a couple of notes.

  1. I’ve changed my expansion preferences across the board to expand abbreviations after I type a space or hit tab. This only took a little getting used to (after years of using instant expansion). It was a necessary change as the whole point of this experiment precludes the use of prefixes.
  2. I try to create abbreviations that aren’t real words but are as short as possible. I basically just type the word way too fast and see what my brain picks out as the primary letters.
  3. All of these are in their own group, with the following preferences set to avoid unnecessary expansion:
    • Expand in: All Applications, Except… (I exclude iTerm, Xcode, and Script Editor because I rarely write prose in any of those and it avoids conflicts with variable names)
    • Expand when: All but letters & numbers precede abbreviation
  4. Almost all of the abbreviations in this group are set to “adapt to case,” with the exception of shortcuts like mas where I’d like to be able to type “MAS” and not have it expand. Adapting case allows me to type rgd to get “regarding,” or type “Rgd” to get “Regarding.”

I’ve taken to just creating snippets as I write. TextExpander lets me know what’s worth shortening, then helps me remember to use it. The downside, of course, is that I’m forgetting how to write without my shortcuts, but that’s only a mild embarrassment when you’re on someone else’s machine. You can just explain, “on my computer, that would have actually made a sentence.”

Here are some examples from my current set of shortcuts:

  • z -> “the”
  • za -> “this”
  • zr -> “there”
  • ano -> “another”
  • avl -> “available”
  • prb -> “problem”
  • prl -> “probably”
  • iwd -> “I would”
  • iwdn -> “I wouldn’t”
  • ihn -> “I haven’t”
  • ncl -> “necessarily”
  • nt -> “nothing”
  • rgd -> “regarding”
  • wn -> “won’t”
  • wr -> “were”
  • wrn -> “weren’t”
  • wsn -> “wasn’t”
  • wl -> “will”
  • wt -> “with the”
  • yh -> “you have”
  • yv -> “you’ve”
  • ct -> “can’t”
  • cd -> “could”
  • cdn -> “couldn’t”
  • upd -> “update”
  • updd -> “updated”

I’m still determining if this idea is going to save me significant time in my own writing, but TextExpander’s suggestion and reminder tools are making it easy to try out. If you have thoughts (whether they’re about your own experience or just criticizing my technique), leave some comments.

Full disclosure: TextExpander is a regular sponsor of I pick my sponsors because I love what they make, and I write non-sponsored posts like this because the apps are great, not because there’s money to be had.