Recently, I discussed tech tools that are available to turn talk to text. For those who like keyboards, this article discusses text expansion applications and some ideas for using those apps. Text expansion tools can help with speed and accuracy of text entry, especially in those moments when you don’t want to or can’t voice dictate.
Text expansion: It is like it sounds
Text expansion is essentially the process by which you type a short series of keystrokes and have those keystrokes expand into a longer text. This can be as simple as a word (e.g., def can become Defendant), phrase (btw becomes by the way), or can include multiple paragraphs. Within the limits of the software, the application can be expanded to fit your imagination in most cases.
Choose your app
The first step is picking an app. Microsoft Word users have likely experienced typing some characters, like their name, and Word tries to helpfully complete the phrase. Smartphones have auto complete built in (which can be both a help and a hindrance). Word’s text expansion tools are okay and can be available in Outlook too, but are limited to those programs. Technically, you can edit an iPhone or Word’s autocorrect and text expansion libraries, but because of the limits to those tools, I find a better return on investment with an app such as TextExpander.
TextExpander is available on Mac, PC, and iPhone/iPad. It costs money, like all good tools. There are some free options available, but they are not as polished and easy to use. The main benefit of using a dedicated application is that no matter which platform or program you’re working in, you have access to your “snippets.” This can greatly improve your effectiveness as a mobile lawyer. Using TextExpander means that I have one place to update and then I have access to that shortcut wherever I am. I can access it from any device in any program.
A note about configuration
I’d be remiss if I failed to advise you of some limitations to this type of app for iPhone/iPad. If you use an iPhone or iPad, you have to use an app that is compatible with TextExpander, switch to the TextExpander third party keyboard, or access the app to use your snippets. If you don’t know what any of that means, keep a web browser handy.
It can be frustrating at first to program the snippet and then try and get it to work in one of the default apps, wondering why nothing is happening (don’t ask how I know this). This is one reason why I use a dedicated text capture app such as Drafts. Once Drafts is configured (I know, sigh), it works with TextExpander and allows you to type in one application and then move the text to an app of your choice. I find it less distracting to work this way, but your mileage may vary.
On a full computer, these limitations do not apply.
Once you install the app, open it up and you are shown some sample snippets. You can also download autocorrect libraries or snippets from other users. Those can be added later, once you master the basics.
Try making a snippet that expands your attorney number. Enter the “snippet” (your attorney number in the proper format) in the main area of the screen, label it “Attorney Number,” and then type an abbreviation (e.g., “attyno”). For your abbreviations, there are many schools of thought to keep them organized and memorable, but for now, just make it something you aren’t typically going to type. You will find out quick enough what not to do just by trying and getting annoyed. Now, open something where you can type some text (remembering the caveats from above) and type “attyno” and watch your attorney number appear, properly formatted.
Remember that snippets can be small portions of text up to lengthy portions. There are also some really great tools for giving you time and date information (today’s date or even performing date math), fill-ins, options, optional sections of text, moving the cursor around, etc. Those are some of the more advanced features.
For now, take some of the things you type every day, your name, address, phone numbers, email addresses, text messages, and turn them into snippets. You will quickly start seeing the value in a consistent naming structure and find ways to avoid using the same “triggers.” TextExpander will warn you if you are creating a snippet that has a conflicting name and even has a search tool if you forgot what you called a snippet.
If you put a few seconds of thought into these types programs, you will no doubt come away with lots of ideas to add to your library. If you get stuck, send me an email. You might even make my email address a snippet to get help faster. By the way, I reference TextExpander because it’s the app I’m most familiar with and is one that works on both Macs and Windows. If you know of something better, let us know!•
• Seth R. Wilson is an attorney with Adler Attorneys in Noblesville. In addition to practicing law, he helps manage the day-to-day technology operations of the firm. Seth writes about legal technology at sethrwilson.com and is a frequent speaker on the subject. Opinions expressed are those of the author.