Enhanced Productivity with Text Expansion

Note: The following was originally published in Deep Focus, the newsletter of ATA’s Audiovisual Division: www.ata-divisions.org/AVD.

I haven’t typed my full name or email address in years. Instead, I type abbreviations that get expanded after I type a punctuation mark or press a trigger key, such as the spacebar or Enter key. I also use text expansion for standard email replies, such as my reply when I receive a job that I can or can’t accept, for the email body that accompanies my invoices, and for phrases and long words in general. I use text expansion when translating, transcribing, and subtitling. I have abbreviations and expansions that I have used for years, but I also add new ones all the time, even when they will just be used for a short period, such as a company name that appears in a corporate video subtitling job.

Text expansion can be a great productivity boost, and, given that it’s so easy to set up and start using, I believe every language professional can benefit from it. There are many text expansion solutions available, but I’ll focus on two here: PhraseExpress and TextExpander.


Not only is PhraseExpress easy to set up and use, it’s also free for personal use. The user can set up keyboard shortcuts and abbreviations as triggers to input specific words and phrases. For example, for transcription work, it’s easy to create an expansion with “i1” as the abbreviation that, when triggered, inputs “Interviewee 1: ”, including the space after the colon, and even with any formatting required. (See Figure 1.)

Figure 1: PhraseExpress allows you to set up keyboard shortcuts and abbreviations as triggers

Abbreviations and expansions are set up in seconds, are immediately available in every program, and can be set up to use plain or formatted text. PhraseExpress runs in the background and can easily be opened to make changes to the existing list of abbreviations by clicking on its icon in the taskbar.

But PhraseExpress is much more than a simple text expander. It includes templates that can help the user get started, and there’s a great smart search feature that will launch a search in a number of websites right from wherever you’re editing text. The built-in autocorrect feature will fix any typos and spelling errors very smoothly, and there are boilerplate templates to easily insert dates and times. The latter is a very handy feature that I have combined with an abbreviation so that whenever I type “td”, today’s date is automatically inserted wherever my cursor is. I use this all the time to quickly append the current date to the end of file names before sending them to clients.

Another favorite feature of mine in PhraseExpress is text prediction. The program can be set up to watch what we type and identify frequently used phrases, which are automatically memorized. After using the same string of words a number of times, PhraseExpress will offer them for insertion the next time you start to type the same words.

PhraseExpress can also keep track of everything that’s saved to the clipboard so you can use it later. This feature must be used with caution, though, as sensitive information will also be saved when enabled.

PhraseExpress is highly customizable, so the user has full control over how, where, and when text will be expanded. For example, I like to keep text expansions off when I’m working in a computer-assisted translation tool that has a great AutoSuggest feature, but I keep them enabled when working on subtitling and transcription programs, where there isn’t much native help in terms of automated text suggestions.

Figure 2: TextExpander can create snippets based on text, images, and links


TextExpander is a much simpler option than PhraseExpress. It doesn’t have any of the additional features such as autocorrect or clipboard management, but its simplicity may actually be one of its strengths.

TextExpander does one thing and does it very well: it stores and triggers text expansions. Adding new abbreviation + expansion pairs is simple and fast, and expansions are offered with a satisfying sound, which can be disabled if desired. The term used in TextExpander for expansions is snippets. Users can create snippets based on text, images, and links. Text snippets can be plain or formatted. (See Figure 2.) There are a number of customizations, such as hotkeys and triggering options, that are just enough to adapt the program to the user’s preferences without making it overly complicated.

While the program has a free trial, using it beyond the trial period will require a monthly license, which can be purchased for individual users or for teams who can share snippets. This cloud-based feature can be very valuable when working on projects involving multiple people.

Find the Tool that Fits Your Needs

PhraseExpress and TextExpander are only two of many text expansion programs available today, and I hope this short overview inspires you to research all the options and find the one that best suits your needs.

Nora Díaz has a BA in English-language teaching and translation. She is a full-time English>Spanish translator and translation team leader. She translates, edits, and proofreads content on a wide variety of topics, including health care, legal, technical, and general texts. She leads linguistic teams, including translators, editors, and proofreaders, from Mexico, South America, and Spain working on large projects. Her interest in productivity has led to a constant exploration of technology to boost productivity, such as computer-assisted translation tools, speech recognition, and custom macros. In her blog, Nora Díaz on Translation, Teaching and Other Stuff, she shares what she has learned with translators from around the globe. nora.diaz@clp.com.mx

Remember, if you have any ideas and/or suggestions regarding helpful resources or tools you would like to see featured, please e-mail Jost Zetzsche at jzetzsche@internationalwriters.com.

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