How much of your work day do you spend typing the same phrases over and over again? Things like your company’s address or a signature or a boilerplate paragraph in a document. No matter how fleet fingered a typist you are, that repetition wastes time.
This is where a text expansion app can help. These programs let you insert commonly used phrases and other chunks of text using shortcuts so you don’t have to type out every character. While each shortcut may only shave seconds of your work time, it can quickly add up to hours of saved effort over the course of a week.
Text expansion apps use a few basic mechanisms to make typing less tedious:
Snippets: These are the bits and blocks of text you most commonly use. You set these up once and link them to “abbreviations” (see below) that you will use each time you want to paste a snippet in a document.
Abbreviations: You assign these codes—usually just a few characters—to your snippets; you type an abbreviation whenever you want to insert its corresponding snippet into some text. For example, “pcw” for the PCWorld office’s address.
Macros: Unlike snippets, which insert predefined text, macros are codes that pull in dynamic syntax like the current date or time or your clipboard contents.
Delimiters: If you don’t want a text snippet to expand as soon as you type its abbreviation, you can set a delimiter—essentially a trigger key you must press to insert the phrase. A tab, space, or special character is typically used as a delimiter.
There are many text expanders available with a wide array of feature sets. Here are three of our favorites.
This simple freeware app is a good choice for first timers. With the click of a button you can start creating snippets, then create abbreviations for them and organize them into libraries. You can also download predefined libraries, mostly of medical and biotech terms and phrases.
WordExpander further speeds up your typing with features like EasyComplete, a predictive text tool; autocorrect; and smart macro commands. You can use WordExpander in any text-based Windows programs, including all Microsoft Office apps.
Breevy’s intuitive interface makes it easy to get up and running. Just click on New Abbreviation or New Launcher to start setting up your snippets. By default, Breevy will expand snippets as soon as the abbreviation is typed, but you can also configure them to be activated by a delimiter or trigger key.
But Breevy is more than just a capable text expander. You can use abbreviations to launch programs, websites, folders, and files as well. It also supports Dropbox syncing so you can access your snippet across multiple devices.
Breevy comes with a free 30-day trial and costs $34.95 for the full version. A portable version is also available.
PhraseExpress is a more advanced but incredibly powerful text expander. On top of managing your text snippets it can also convert them into multiple languages, an essential feature in a global business setting. Other features include the ability to autocomplete sentences, create complete documents based on boilerplate templates, and automate repetitive tasks with macros. You can also conduct web searches right from the text editor.
With so many features and customization options, there is a bit of a learning curve with PhraseExpress, but the benefits are well worth the time investment.
PhraseExpress is free for personal use. Professional users have to purchase a license once the the 30-day trial expires.
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Michael Ansaldo is veteran consumer and small-business technology journalist. He contributes regularly to TechHive and PCWorld.