How to Type Perfectly, Part II

If there’s something you type all the time, and it’s more than a few characters, why not have your Mac type it for you? This tip will show you how.

Let’s say, hypothetically, that your name is “Christian Boyce.” Now, let’s say you stay up late doing blog entries and AppleScripts and kitchen cleaning (I did say “hypothetically”). Wouldn’t it be a drag if staying up late made you tired and you accidentally made a typo while typing your own name? It Could Happen.

Actually, it probably did happen. I don’t remember. I’m tired from being up late doing blog entries and AppleScripts. But it’s not going to happen anymore, because I’ve gone into the Language & Text preference pane and set up my own little short-hand substitution. All I have to do now is type “cb” and it’s magically expanded to the full “Christian Boyce.” You should try it (but use your own name).

Here’s the Language & Text preference pane (start by going to the Apple menu, then System Preferences). We’re interested in the “Text” part. Yes, I know the name doesn’t make a lot of sense.

You can see that Apple provides a few substitutions for you already– (r) becomes ® and so on. Neat, but not as neat as turning your initials into your name. To do that, click the + at bottom left of the preference pane, and type your shortcut on the left and what it expands to on the right. See below.

Close up the preference pane and start enjoying your shortcut. Ah, but where? Turns out that these substitutions don’t work everywhere. Here’s a list of applications where the text substitutions definitely work:

  • Mail
  • Text Edit
  • iChat

If it doesn’t work for you in those applications, put your cursor somewhere that allows you to enter text, then control-click to reveal a menu. Choose Substitutions/Text Replacement. Then it will work. (To trigger the expansion, type the shortcut, then a space or a return or punctuation.)

You can even make a shortcut that expands to more than one line. For example, you could put your entire mailing address into a shortcut. Imagine typing “hadd” and having your entire home address get typed for you. Neat.

The same sort of thing works in Pages ’09 except you turn it on in Pages’ own Preferences, and it does not read the list of custom substitutions that you made in System Preferences/Language & Text. Instead it has its own list. Word 2011 has a similar feature but it’s under Tools/AutoCorrect.

Hint: don’t use a real word for your shortcut. You’ll be triggering it all the time. For example, “had” would be a poor choice for the Home Address shortcut. You’d try to type “I had the fish” and it would come out with your address in the middle. Ooopsy.

This is not the end-all, be-all text expansion/substitution method, but it’s built into OS X 10.6, so you may as well use it. If you want to do something a little fancier, and you want it to work in practically every application, you should look into TypeIt4Me,* TextExpander, and Typinator. Each of these are terrific additions to your Mac but I prefer Typinator. Watch this movie and see how Typinator could work for you.


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