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What Is Text Expansion & How Can It Help You Save Time?

Dann Albright 19-06-2014

Even if you’ve learned to type blazingly fast Want to Type Faster? (Not Another Touch Typing Course) Read More , you still spend a large portion of your time typing. Email, documents, instant messages and online comments require that you type thousands of words every week.


If you could save yourself even a small fraction of the time you spend typing, you could save hours of your time every week. That’s exactly what text expansion is for.

What Is Text Expansion?


Text expansion is a bit like predictive typing or auto-complete on a cell phone — it allows you to type a long string of text by entering a shorter string. It’s like a keyboard shortcut for a word, phrase, or sentence. When you’re using a text expansion app, it monitors your typing, and whenever you type a specific sequence of letters, it will replace those letters with a predefined piece of text. It could be your name, your address, or a full paragraph that you’ve saved.

Think of how many things you type over and over on a regular basis; your e-mail address is a good example. I don’t know about you, but I type “Let me know what you think” at least three or four times every day. Text expansion allows me to type a few letters instead of that whole phrase.



It gets even better than that. Most text-expansion apps offer you the ability to insert more things than just text. For example, you could create a form-fill profile by inserting your name, a tab, the first line of your address, two more tabs, and your postcode. Or you can insert the item on your clipboard in the middle of a phrase. Instead of typing “Check out the page at” you could just type “slink” and have the link on your clipboard automatically filled in.

You can do some dynamically generated things as well, such as the current date or time, and you can also set up your text expansion program to do some auto-correcting for you, if you regularly spell the same words incorrectly.

Does It Really Save That Much Time?

If you take the time to properly set up a text expander app, you might be surprised at how much time you can save. There are so many things that you type on a regular basis that you probably don’t even think about it, especially when it comes to common phrases. Getting your app of choice setup takes some time, and it’ll take a while to get used to, but you’ll thank yourself when you’re utterly dependent on it.



If you write for the web or create webpages, you could use text expansion to insert lines of HTML with fewer keystrokes. If you greet people using instant messaging a lot, you can create a quick shortcut to say “Hey, how are you?” If you sign your e-mails with different signatures, you can type any of them with just a few keys. If you’re a student, you can create entries for things that you type in your research papers. These are just a few of the great uses for text expansion.

Don’t forget that too much typing can be bad for you, especially if your computer setup isn’t great. Text expansion can help you avoid a repetitive-stress injury Be Lazy: 3 Tips To Reduce The Risk Of RSI By Resting Your Hands Here are three tips that can ease the burden on your hands and make computer or mobile usage slightly more comfortable. Read More , which is definitely a productivity killer.

Getting Started with Text Expansion

To get started with text expansion, you’ll need a text expansion app. If you’re using Mac OS X, there’s actually text-expansion capability built into the operating system, so you can give it a try before you try one of the more comprehensive options. To get started, just go to System Preferences > Keyboard > Text. From here, you can create some basic text expansion options.



As I mentioned before, I type “Let me know what you think” all the time. I’ve created a rule that will replace “,lmk” with that phrase. Now, whenever I type “,lmk”, it gets replaced with “Let me know what you think”. And all I have to do is enter a space, a period, or an exclamation point after it, and the phrase is inserted!

OS X doesn’t let you do anything too complicated, but you can add a few different sequences for the things you type most often and give it a try. If you like it, and you think you’d benefit from a text expansion app—and I can almost guarantee you will—you can think about investing in one of the more comprehensive options, like aText ($4.99), TypeIt4Me ($20) or TextExpander ($35), pictured below.


If you’re on Windows, there are plenty of options that you can use to get started. PhraseExpander ($59), Breevy ($35), and PhraseExpress Text Expander ($49, free for personal use) all have free trials that you can download and try to see if you’re willing to shell out for the full apps.


Are Text Expansion Apps Worth the Price?

If you use your expansion app a lot, you could easily make up the price of admission in short order. If you take a look at Bakari’s article about TextExpander 7 Tips For Automating Your Mac With TextExpander If you haven't gotten on the Mac automation spaceship by now, you're missing out. Applications like Keyboard Maestro, Hazel, and TextExpander can speed up your workflow and save you lots of clicking, copying, pasting and... Read More , you’ll see just how much time TextExpander can really save you (and the app saves you the bother of counting). Think of how many hours you could save over the course of six months or a year—isn’t that worth $50?

If you’re not ready to spring for one of the more expensive options, there are definitely some more affordable ones. For example, aText is only $5. There’s no catch—that’s just how much it costs. And PhraseExpress is totally free for personal use – you don’t even have to make up the money you spent in time saved, you’re ahead as soon as you start. Unless you don’t do much typing at all, investing a little bit of money and time to set up a text expansion app will almost certainly be worth it.

Do you use text expansion? What’s your favorite app? Do you have any really cool replacements setup? Share your thoughts and tips below!

Image credit: Kim Love via Flickr.

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  1. Li Ung
    October 23, 2017 at 5:24 am

    I came across your article when I was trying to find a way to get text expander features while using a tablet and stylus (like the iPad and Pencil). For my desktop, I use Autohotkeys and I love it, but often we have lots of 'stand up' meetings where typing just doesn't work, so I revert back to pen and paper and still use the same contractions and characters that I do when I'm at my desk. I'm trying to figure out if there's a way to use a tablet and smart pen and still be able to use my contractions and have the handwriting recognition software adapt for it. For example, I use 'dplymt' which automatically expands to deployment, and it'll be great if I could still do that ! Do you or your readers have any ideas?

  2. Alysha Cox
    March 22, 2016 at 4:22 pm

    I use FastFox daily for recruitment emails and responses and for emails that I send new hires. It makes life so much easier.

    • Dann Albright
      March 22, 2016 at 7:52 pm

      I believe it! If you're sending a lot of things like that where the language is similar or identical, I can see how a text expander would make a huge difference.

  3. Terry
    July 4, 2014 at 5:00 pm

    I use AutoKey in Linux with the configuration syncronized accross computers by a cloud service so my text expansions are always available and up to date .

    • Dann A
      July 6, 2014 at 10:48 am

      Syncing across devices is a great idea! That's one disadvantage of getting used to text expanders; if you try to do it elsewhere, you'll just get a string of characters. But cloud sync makes it a lot easier.

      Thanks for reading!

  4. cynflux
    June 26, 2014 at 7:20 pm

    I used the portable version of PhraseExpress and ran into issues with it on the 2nd day of using it on Windows 7 Ultimate. PhraseExpress would disable the ENTER key on my keyboard. The phrases would also not completely expand. I had used Texter (from Lifehacker) for years until it would crash when Remote Desktop was running. Autohotkey seems to be my only solution for text expansion. It is free, however there is a learning curve involved.

    • Dann A
      June 27, 2014 at 9:47 am

      That's strange that you've had those problems. PhraseExpress generally seems to be a pretty stable option.

      Autohotkey is a great option, especially as it's free, but you're right—it can take a while to pick up. I hope you find success with it!

  5. Michael
    June 23, 2014 at 7:32 pm

    PhraseExpress is free-of-charge as explained at

    @dwream: We usually answer any inquiry. If you tell us your email address, we can gladly review the situation. From time to time, we get email bounces for unknown reasons. And please understand that support for freeware is provided on a complimentary basis. We have to put priority on paying customers. Thank you for your understanding.

    The license reminder in PhraseExpress v10 tells you in detail when it detects commercial use. E.g. PhraseExpress considers use of domain controllers or running from a Windows server professional use, because such professional equipment is not around at home. If it is, our apologies. Please find more information at

  6. John W
    June 21, 2014 at 2:34 am

    Ah yes, text macros. I first used them in Ashton Tate's Framework 3.0 for DOS in 1978 for a classical music database. Ctrl M was Mozart, Ctrl B was Beethoven etc - very useful.

    Nothing new to see here, move along .....

    • Dann A
      June 21, 2014 at 5:44 am

      Yes, text expansion has been around for a long, long time. It seems to be gaining in popularity, but the concept of a text macro is probably almost as old as programming—and a lot of people probably don't realize that. These apps just make it a lot easier than it's been in the past, as they provide GUIs that guide the user through the process (or at least a user guide that'll help).

      Thanks for reading!

  7. dwream
    June 20, 2014 at 9:05 pm

    Two years ago I tried the free PhraseExpress program and loved it. It was a big help in my personnel correspondence and my volunteer work with a youth group. Unfortunately, in a very short time, their program algorithm identified me as a "commercial" user and not eligible for the free program. I continued to use the program for a short time, putting up with frequent reminder interruptions. Finally it quit working and I had to buy the full program ($50 U.S. at that time). It may be worth the price, but I felt it was sneaky to label private users "commercial" to force them to buy the program.

    By the way, a text expansion program has many uses besides corespondence. For example, I have saved the directory locations of frequently used files so I can find them instantly when their abbreviations are typed into the address bar.

    • Dann A
      June 23, 2014 at 6:50 am

      Ah, that's unfortunate. I wonder what it was about your usage that identified you as commercial! (If anyone from PhraseExpress is around and can offer some insight into this, it would be much appreciated.)

      Also, using text expansion for file locations is a great idea! There's no end to the number of ways it can make your life a bit easier.

      Thanks for commenting!

    • dwream
      June 23, 2014 at 11:52 am

      I agree that it would be interesting to learn from the PhraseExpress team how they determine "commercial" use. I sent them 2 e-mails with that question, asking if I could get an exception to purchase requirement, perhaps by making a modest "shareware" donation. I never received a response.

    • Dann A
      June 23, 2014 at 5:58 pm

      The PhraseExpress team is on Twitter, and they sent me a comment about this article. I'll reach out to them and see if they'd be willing to help you out with some info.

  8. P-51DEN
    June 20, 2014 at 5:12 pm

    I go even further. I bought the portable version of Macro Express ( You can set up any number of shortcuts for phrases.

    Additionally, MacEx lets you automate tasks, like scheduling a backup or virus scan on a given schedule (once a week, at least!). It takes a lot of the drudge out of everyday computer life.

    Yes, it is significantly more expensive ($60), but it also does much more.

    • Dann A
      June 23, 2014 at 6:51 am

      After some of the discussion on this post, I think I might have to take a look at automation programs next. Macro Express and Autohotkey both sound like interesting apps that could help a lot of people save a lot of time.

      Thanks for the recommendation—I hadn't heard of MacEx before!

  9. Darryl Gittins
    June 20, 2014 at 2:46 pm

    I've been doing this for years in Word by using the Auto-correct feature. This is a good article but it doesn't mention that Word can do this, presumably because MakeUseOf users are too cool to use Microsoft products (Linux is better.. blah blah).

    Anyway, it can save a lot of typing. And Auto-correct in Word works great.

    • Dann A
      June 21, 2014 at 5:41 am

      Darryl, I can see how you might think that if you're new to MakeUseOf, but you'll be happy to find out that we have an entire Windows section (//, and that we write about Microsoft Office on a fairly regular basis.

      Anyway, to address the point that you made, yes, you can set this up as auto-correction in Word. The drawback to that is that it's them limited to Word, whereas the tools in the article are system-wide. While I do use Word quite a bit, I would find that setup limiting, as I often use Scrivener to draft before editing in Word, or Mou for Markdown editing. I also send tons and tons of e-mail, which is where I would be looking for help from text expansion, so using a system-wide solution would be better for me. However, if you use Word exclusively, then yes, this is a great (and free!) way to set it up.

      Glad you liked the article, and thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    • Terry
      July 4, 2014 at 6:10 pm

      As a regular reader of MakeUseOf and multi-platform user I have to say, I see MakeUseOf as being very platform inclusive and fairly platform agnostic. They actually have more articles about Windows than any other platform, but that is still to be expected. I personally find the multi-platform and interoperative tips incredibly valuable.

      I also find your post particularly ironic on an article that speaks positivly about Windows tools and never once mentions Linux. I hope you stick around and enjoy the information provided here as much as I do. Cheers.

  10. dragonmouth
    June 20, 2014 at 12:42 pm

    It may sound great on paper but having to remember dozens of esoteric acronyms is not easy. Does "btw" mean "by the way" or "by the end of the week" or "born to win" or something altogether different?

    Text expansion is like programming in assembler or using CLI in Linux. Unless you do it constantly, it is counterproductive because you waste time looking up the acronyms.

    • Dann A
      June 21, 2014 at 5:32 am

      I think you're right about needing to use it constantly for it to really be of use; if you set it up with the most common things that you type, that shouldn't be too hard to do that. By adding just a few at a time, you can make the learning curve a bit more reasonable, as you'll only have to remember a few new ones while the others have been committed to memory.

      Text expansion is a great way to save time, but it's front-loaded a bit; you'll definitely spend more time getting it set up and getting used to it than you will with other apps or strategies. But once you get it up and running, and you've committed a lot of the trigger strings to memory, you'll be off flying in no time.

      Thanks for reading!

  11. Salkis
    June 20, 2014 at 2:46 am

    Texter from Lifehacker and Autohotkey.
    Autohotkey can also correct commonly misspelled words, download the .ahk file.

    • Dann A
      June 21, 2014 at 5:29 am

      Yes, those are both definitely good options for text expansion. As I just mentioned above, AHK is an impressive tool that offers a huge amount of versatility, but didn't make it into the article because I was trying to stick to a small number of apps, and it's set apart by being a full automation tool.

      That being said, AHK is definitely one of the best tools out there for Windows.

      Thanks for reading!

  12. Richard Schmitt
    June 19, 2014 at 11:26 pm

    Autohotkey offers text expansion and a lot more to automate your routine tasks and better play games. And it is free.

    • Dann A
      June 21, 2014 at 5:26 am

      Yes, AHK is a pretty awesome program, and it offers an impressive amount of versatility. The only reason it didn't make it into this article is that I wanted to choose a small number of apps, and it stands apart a bit as an automation tool, and not just a text expander (though the expander is a significant part of it).

      If anyone out there is looking for text expansion options for Windows, give AHK a try!

      Thanks for reading, Richard!

  13. Mike Merritt
    June 19, 2014 at 7:16 pm

    I use the "Signatures" feature in my email app to insert boilerplate text into an email. One click can insert a whole paragraph.

    • Dann A
      June 21, 2014 at 5:24 am

      That's definitely one way to do it! If you have things that are app-specific, and you don't need a system-wide solution for text expansion, there are plenty of great options like this.

      Thanks for commenting!

  14. kenijo
    June 19, 2014 at 6:58 pm

    For Windows I would suggest the free PhraseExpress : or WordExpander :

    They are both from the same company except the second one is more geared towards medical usage only because the available extension packages are medical only. If you biuld your own, it doesn't matter.

    • Dann A
      June 21, 2014 at 5:23 am

      Thanks for the recommendation! Always interested in hearing which apps people like to use. And you definitely can't beat free for PhraseExpress. Have you found any difference in performance between PhraseExpress and WordExpaner? Other than the medical extension packages?

    • Kenijo
      June 21, 2014 at 5:43 am

      I haven't done any comparison between the two but I found PhraseExpress to be much more complete and advanced. You can insert the date of the day by just typing a keyword or create mini macros like opening an app. It's a bit like a text expander trying to do bit of automation vs autohotkey that is a automation tool trying to do a bit of text expansion.

    • Dann A
      June 21, 2014 at 5:50 am

      Sounds like a good option! I'd love to try it, but alas, I'm currently on a Mac. If I ever switch back to Windows, I'll give it a shot.

      Thanks for the tips!

  15. Chinmay S
    June 19, 2014 at 4:28 pm

    Do you know any plugin other than Emmet for Sublime Text 2? Let me know what you think.

    • Dann A
      June 21, 2014 at 5:21 am

      I'm not familiar with Sublime Text, but I did a little looking around, and didn't see anything. Hopefully someone who's better qualified to answer can help you out!

    • Andrea Nagar
      June 24, 2014 at 7:08 am

      Hello Chinmay,

      I'm the author of one of the mentioned text expansion software (PhraseExpander

      You could use any text expansion software in Sublime Text to help you autocomplete HTML and CSS tags (we have a package for that inside PhraseExpander) as they will pickup what you are typing.

      Our SmartComplete technology will work like an autocomplete as it will suggest and complete HTML tags as you are typing.