Text expansion programs have been around for quite a while now, and are probably most used by advanced computer users and writers. Programs like TextExpander, TypeIt4Me, and Typinator (which is what I use) are huge time savers when it comes to typing frequently used words, phrases, or letters. But I still come across people who have never heard of these programs, or who don’t quite understand their value.
If you are a Mac user and have never used a text expansion application before, a new program aptly called DashExpander can help you type much faster and work more efficiently. DashExpander does not have the advanced professional features of the programs listed above, but it is useful if you don’t already have such a program installed on your Mac or if you only have a limited need for one.
How It Works
All text expansion Mac programs work similarly in that they automatically replace an abbreviation that you type with an assigned snippet, such as a word, phrase or entire paragraph. So when I want to type my name, for example, I type the abbreviations “bkc”, and Typinator replaces that abbreviation with my full name. DashExpander works the same way with a few unique features of its own.
DashExpander has four main parts – a window for an abbreviation, another window for the corresponding text expansion, a quick search window, and a sliding panel for your assigned tags. DashExpander provides a fairly useful tutorial for getting started with the program, but let’s go through a few samples step-by-step.
If you haven’t already done so, download DashExpander from the Mac Store and install it on your Mac, which must be running OS X Lion. To quickly see the program in action, launch TextEdit, or a similar application and type the abbreviation, “hhello“. DashExpander will replace what you just typed with the words, “Hi there!”. While this is not the best example of what DashExpander can do, it does show how typing one abbreviation saves you the trouble of typing two separate words.
If you start each of your e-mails with the same greeting, such as “how are you?“, then you could create a text expansion–assigning your greeting with say a three letter abbreviation like “hwy.” This is a safe abbreviation because no words in English language begins with these three letters.
Open DashExpander from your menu bar, or by typing the keyword shortcut Option+Space bar. If DashExpander’s expansion editor opens with an existing snippet, simply ignore it and click on the “Add New Snippet” at the bottom of the editor.
To make the process easier, I suggest you first type the word(s) that you want to be expanded in the larger box of DashExpander. Your expansion can be as short or as long as you would like.
Now assign your snippet an abbreviation, which should be a group of letters or words that you can remember for that expansion. Try to make the abbreviation represent the expansion as closely as possible. So if the expansion is a template thank you letter, then the abbreviation might be “tthankyou” or “tty“.
After your expansion and abbreviation are set up, you can use the tagging feature to organize and categorize your snippets.
DashExpander includes a unique feature for adding text to an expansion before it is pasted into a document. For this type of snippet, you set up an expansion as described above, but in places where you want to add unique text, you type a placeholder, surrounding it with four underscores, as shown in the sample below.
When you type your assigned abbreviation, DashExpander will present a text editing window in which you can add the custom words or names to your snippet before it’s pasted.
You can navigate from one placeholder to the next by pressing the Return or Tab key.
DashExpander’s snippet management features are limited when compared to more advanced programs, so you will definitely want to tag each of your snippets. To open and close the Tags panel, click on the tiny cloud icon on the left side of DashExpander. Try to use tags that will group together similar snippets.
Another great feature of DashExpander is Dropbox synchronization. This means that if you want to use DashExpander on two or more different Macs, you can synchronize your snippets between them using your Dropbox account.
To use your Dropbox account, click on the gear button on the right side of DashExpander. In the pop-up window you can change the location of the DashExpander file to a Dropbox folder. You will of course use the same Dropbox folder for each Mac.
There are several features missing from DashExpander, such as the ability to only activate an expansion only after the spacebar is pressed, or to make some expansions only work in specified applications.
Despite its limitations, DashExpander is a great text expansion mac program for learning how to use text expansion in your workflow. If you like the program, please consider rating the app in the Mac App Store where it can be downloaded for free. And let us know what you think of it.
In a follow-up article, I will share some other different ways you might use DashExpander or a similar program. If you’re a Linux user, check out this MUO article about the text expansion program, Autokey.