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Text Expanders: an Essential Tool for Writers


Not unlike “Clipboard Managers” to enhance productivity and make life a little easier at the keyboard, Text Expanders go a step beyond where you activily control the snippets of text you want to re-use and then create them in the Text Expander of your choice. For writers or anyone who writes volumes of Text, Text Expanders are essential. You can view them as a nice to have tool but they really are a have to have tool. We’ll discuss, in this article, how they can be so useful.

Text Expanders do what the Name Implies

There are many text expanders but only a few have the big names. Text Expander for the Mac probably had the most recognizable name and was broadly used. Then they did something odd. They decided they’d convert this utility to the pay as you go model at a hefty price where the reality is you can often use your original text expander for years.

They decided the Text Expander has a team based role. If on the team there are common expansions, why not use them. Simple. It’s hard enough to remember you’re own expansions let alone that of others.

The one thing good though that Text Expander did was make your Text Expansions universal between IOS and OSX. This is a good and healthy model but why they didn’t just keep on making this the winner that it was probably has to do wit the fact it wasn’t easy. Why not put into place something that is easy, has recurring payments that aren’t, shall we say cheap and well …. to put it bluntly, this is nothing more than a cash grab. I will demonstrate how you can stay away from this product. Really, unless you get the 50% discount commonly available stay away until they come to their senses.

Text Expansion in Action

Text Expansion is merely taking a word, phrase, paragraph etc and using a short memorable phrase to expand it to the longer phrase. As an example, if we take “Text Expansion” as our snippet and assign it the trigger “tte” it will immediately expand to Text Expansion. This is not only faster but it prevents typos as this, in of itself, is worth its weight in gold.

Imagine now, if you will, that you write reports, articles, a book and on it goes and you have something that you can start taking repeated phrases and have them expand on a dime. As you write, you will start to notice what you type time and again. This is where you start and begin to create your own set of expansions. You still have to know how to write but some of the tedium is reduced.

One of my favorite snippets is the date and time output. Often, I like basically time stamping a piece of writing and what better way to do it than with a text expander. Nothing to look up or remember other than the expression. So make your expressions yours and easy to remember. It has to be unique so you don’t accidentally type it and there are many ways to do this. Start the expression with the first two letters of the expression such as “the” for text expansion based on “;te”. The trick here is consistency of creation and simplicity for memorizing what could become a slew of expansions.

The Best: Text Expander, Typinator, typeit4me, Keyboard Maestro

I think there are really only four very good text expanders but the last one in our list, Keyboard Maestro, is not a Text Expander per se but can do Text Expansion. In fact, it can do so much which includes almost making your Mac dance you, if you get on to it, you won’t be able to go without this one.

First though, I’d like to say about Text Expander that although it is probably the best of the bunch for this task, the company is price gouging. They will attempt to justify this to you around team etc but don’t buy into this nonsense. Money is dear and these people don’t get it. A lot don’t. Invest wisely and you won’t break the bank and will be well equipped.

Typinator is really as good as Text Expander and for others they find it better for any variety of reasons. Typeit4me is yet another good choice and interestingly this is where the whole area of Text Expansion got its beginnings. Considered simple to use yet with a very clean interface, for many this is their preferred go to product. I tend to prefer Typinator and Keyboard Maestro but this may simply be I have had far more exposure to those two products. Typeif4me does have though an IOS counterpart something that is important to many.

Best Value

Your best value though by far is Keyboard Maestro. If you just approach this as a Text Expander it is incredibly robust and adroit. Add to it the other capabilities and you’ve got a winner. This is a full Macro Programming Language, not a scripting language and as such is not difficult to get onto.

So, it can do full Text Expansion but it can also be a full Clipboard Manager. Now you have two important writing tools in one. This is cost effective. Let’s though take it to the nth degree. Almost and I say that with a touch of hesitation as I can reach my limits, this program can get your mac to do almost anything. You can write a startup script that will start up programs etc when Keyboard Maestro’s engine comes online. You can write boolean statements to your hearts content e.g. If Ulysses is running, run Marsedit and Snap Converter at the same time. Now if you use Launchbar you have just saved yourself three actions to launch three programs.

Just Use It

The key to any use of a Text Expansion program to a writer is just use it. The more you use it, the more proficient you’ll get with Text Expansion (just done from Keyboard Maestro). If you want to keep it simple, probably use a dedicated Text Expansion program but if you feel that you want to veer off and you might use a clipboard manager and you want to teach your Mac to dance (patience is a virtue here) get Keyboard Maestro. Keyboard Maestro is as fast as they come on the output side but might be a little slower in the creation. However, the creation is generally just a one time thing and the output is a many time thing possibly over a long time.

These programs are often on sale somewhere. Recently, Keyboard Maestro was on sale at Stack Social but that sale seems to have ended along with the one for TextExpander. Other than TextExpander I don’t feel any of the other programs are expensive for the return you will get on them. Any of them will be working for you for a long time to come. The key is to determine your needs and if you feel Text Expansion is likely a benefit for you, fully assess your needs and choose the most appropriate program to fill the bill. One again, Keyboard Maestro is really not much more if any more expensive than others but it can take you so far.

Keyboard Maestro is the tool though you’ll want if you really want to take your Mac to some distant shores. There are some people though that like a smattering of this and of that. As an example, some like to have both Launchbar and Alfred for the little nuances between them. For most though I would say that you’re best not to have too many things that overlap as it will lead to confusion. Keyboard Maestro can’t do everything that you can do say if you were to put Launchbar, Alfred and Keyboard Maestro together but of the three it would be my choice to do the most the easiest.

Thus, how you approach Text Expansion is a matter of budget, what you want to accomplish, the expected benefits and then choose the tool that seems best to meet the need. The key to all this though is just doing it.

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