WBR Tech Tool: TextExpander

Updated: Jan 30

We've been talking a lot about writing "better" reports. We haven't defined what "better" means, so let me offer a definition. I'm talking about reports that are:

  • Short(er)

  • User-Friendly

  • Personalized

  • Easier to Write

  • Readable

  • Better Organized


Today's WBR post is all about a tech tool that focuses on making reports easier to write. Specifically, this post is about the app TextExpander.


Here's a 2 minute video with a very enthusiastic woman explaining the features and showing how it works. (Note: She says it's only available for Mac, which is not true):



I learned about TextExpander from an early episode of the Testing Psychologist podcast where Dr. Sharp discusses some tools and tricks that can make report writing easier. The price ($40 a year) seemed friendly enough to consider trying, so I purchased it immediately.


Now, I can't imagine my life without it. You may want to skip reading this post, go purchase it, and just start playing around with it.


However, if you'd like more ideas about what TextExpander is and how it works, read on. If you already own TextExpander but haven't quite figured out all the bells and whistles, or aren't quite sure how its features will make report writing easier, this post is also for you, though you may want to skip down to section 6.


Before we get started, a few notes:

  • I am not affiliated with TextExpander in any way. I just like to share things I love.

  • I am not an expert user. These are just things I've figured out or learned about on the internet.

  • I put the names of snippets in bold in the text below to improve readability. In reality, snippet names don't need to be in bold.

  • You'll see a set of pictures of the beach between each section below to make the wall of text easier to read. Those pictures look like this:


Relaxing, right?


Now, on to some things you can do with TextExpander:


1. Single Words or Phrases


Probably the easiest thing to do in TextExpander is to write snippets that will expand into words or phrases you write frequently. For example, if you write the words "superior range" a lot, you might want to create a snippet that is just a few letters long. This snippet will then automatically expand into "superior range" each time you type those letters.

You'll want to make sure your snippets do not include strings of letters you type a lot. For example, if you set up a snippet where sup expands to "superior range", every time you type sup after a space, it will automatically expand to superior. This will be inconvenient when you want to type words like 'supervision' or 'superb' - you'll get 'superior rangeervision' and 'superior rangeerb.'


You can avoid this problem by using special characters or infrequent letters to introduce snippets. Some users like characters, like + or # (e.g., #sup = superior). I don't like using the shift key or weird characters if I don't have to, so I start most of my snippets with infrequently used letters like 'z', 'x', and 'w'.


For single words and phrases, I use 'z'. So for reports, I have snippets like:

  • zav = average

  • zar = at risk

  • zel = elevated

  • zvs = very superior range

  • zsup = superior range

  • zha = high average range

  • zza = average range


For things I type often in emails and cover letters, I have snippets like:

  • zadd = 2800 E. Madison St, Suite 304, Seattle WA 98112

  • zweb = www.skylightneuropsychology.com

  • zfax = 206-242-5121

  • zsig = Warmly, [return] Stephanie Nelson, Ph.D.


Now that we know about basic snippets, let's pause for another moment to look at the pretty pictures and breathe before going onto the next section.



2. Formatted Phrases or Sentences

Do you find yourself typing and formatting the same book titles or websites over and over?

If you're tired of typing and formatting (or cutting & pasting) a specific book, program, or website, make a snippet for it!


My snippets for books are usually simple acronyms of the title. For example:

  • SBS = Smart But Scattered: The Revolutionary “Executive Skills” Approach to Helping Kids Reach Their Potential, by Peg Dawson and Richard Guare

  • OD = Overcoming Dyslexia by Sally Shaywitz


If you watched Enthusiastic Lady, above, you have a good idea of how to easy it is to make those kinds of snippets. Here's a much more low-key video where I show how easy it is to create this type of formatted snippet:


You can also use snippets for all kinds of other things that need formatting, such as italics, bold, bullets, or hyperlinks. For example, I hate typing out websites, so I've made a lot of snippets for websites I recommend. My snippets for websites use //.


For example:


I've also made snippets for diagnoses. For these, I use a semi-colon. If I want the ICD-10 code in front of the diagnosis, I use a semi-colon and then the letter f (because most of the codes I use start with F). So ;f + the shorthand for the diagnosis name.


These look like:

  • ;fADHDc: F90.2: Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Combined subtype

  • ;fDMDD = F34.8: Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder (DMDD)


(Note that these can get a little complicated. Sometimes, I can't remember the conventions I've used for naming snippets, and I get annoyed because I type in something and no snippet pops up. When that happens, I make a copy of the snippet that's saved with whatever it is that I was trying to type in. So for example, sometimes I was finding myself typing ;iADHDc for ADHD with the ICD-10 code instead of ;fADHDc. No problem. I made a snippet with that abbreviation too - now both work, so whichever I remember works fine.)


You can also use snippets for test names, which saves a lot of time if you type test names into your reports. I use the semi-colon for these too.


For example, here are a few I've made:

  • ;wisc = Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children, Fifth Edition (WISC-V)

  • ;trails = Comprehensive Trail Making Test, Second Edition (CTMT-2)

  • ;wiat = Wechsler Individual Achievement Test, Third Edition (WIAT-III)


Here's a video showing how you can make one of these in well under a minute:


OK. Time for another pause. Ahhhhhhh.



3. Lists and Recommendations

You can combine the above tips to make snippets for whole lists. For example, do you find yourself typing the same list of tests you plan to give over and over on pre-auth forms you can fill in electronically? Make a snippet and never have to type that list again!


Do you have a list of books and websites you frequently recommend for anxiety? Why not make a snippet for that list?


I start all my recommendation lists with the letter 'x.' I then add another letter for what type of recommendations. For example, snippets that start with 'xa' are appendixes (xaanx = anxiety appendix; xadep = depression appendix).


Snippets that start with 'xb' are lists of book/website recommendations. Snippets that start with 'xt' are lists of local therapists who specialize in that issue. Etc.


Here's xbanx, my snippet for anxiety books and websites:


You can create snippets for any and all of your pre-written recommendations, of course. Just like any text -- whether you typed it, popped it in with cut & paste, or had TextExpander expand for you -- snippets can be edited once they are in your document.


I like snippets especially for appendixes (appendices?) of recommendations. For example, xaef becomes:

Feeling overwhelmed by all these options? Let's look at the nice pictures of the beach again:

4. Pictures


Snippets don't always have to be text. You can also add in pictures. For example, I write personalized letters to kids with their evaluation results. While these are usually text, for younger kids or those with significant reading challenges, I may also include pictures. For pics I use frequently, I have made snippets. It's so much faster than cut & paste.


For example, to illustrate a metaphor about each kid being on their own journey, I might use a picture of kids climbing a mountain. I created a short snippet, mtn, which inserts this picture automatically:



This also works well if you have your signature saved as a picture. For example, you could make a snippet #sig that puts in a picture of your signature, like so:



This is my fake signature (left-handed) so you all don't steal my identity.

I also have my business logo and my headshot saved as snippets, which comes in handy more often than I would have expected.


I might also start entering in these pictures into everything:


5. Canned text


Hopefully you already use canned responses in gmail to save time for emails you write frequently. If you find yourself frequently typing out the same info in an email but a canned email doesn't quite fit the bill, you might see if a snippet would work.


For example, we get frequent email requests for basic info about me, my evaluations, insurance, location, etc. It's all available online, but sometimes people need the info in an email or all consolidated in one place. So I've created a sort of FAQ document. My office manager can type the snippet moreinfo into an email, and TextExpander will automatically put in:

Sometimes I want to refer families to other psychologists for testing if they need someone earlier than I can fit them into my schedule. I want to make it as easy as possible for families, so I want to send them a bulleted, bolded list, with links to their website. I can also do that with a snippet!


For example, my snippet otherNPs puts in something like this:


Here's where you can get creative.


You can make thousands of these snippets, for anything that you find yourself typing frequently or cutting and pasting. Here are just a few ways I've used TextExpander for canned text, or heard others using it:


  • Psychoeducational paragraphs (e.g., a paragraph that explains what ADHD is)

  • Template summaries (e.g., typical summary for a child with dyslexia that you can then edit to individualize)

  • Basic behavior observations (e.g., typical behavior obs for a cooperative child)

  • Boilerplate text about specific tests, or about testing in general

  • Basic test results (e.g., make 3 snippets for strong scores, average scores, and weak scores on a specific test)

  • Sentences you write a lot (e.g., "I recommend a follow up evaluation in 1-2 years to monitor progress and update treatment recommendations")

  • Contact info for providers you recommend frequently

  • Responses to the Frequently Asked Questions you receive, like directions to your office

  • Questions on a pre-authorization form that you answer the same way every time

  • Text you enter repeatedly into your Electronic Health Records (e.g., "Client participated in face-to-face testing for a neuropsychological evaluation.")

  • CPT codes, or frequent combinations of CPT codes

  • Routine paperwork that you want to quickly fill in with a patient name, like a doctors' note or receipt

  • Sentences you don't write that often, but wrote once in a good way (e.g., perhaps you once did an excellent job writing up non-credible test performance - make a snippet so that Future You can take advantage of Past You's brilliance the next time the situation arises)

  • Journal article titles or the full names of your collaborators for writing up research

  • Links to blog posts you find yourself frequently sharing

  • Networking emails like thank you notes, replies to your blog readers, or invitations to meet for coffee, etc

  • Quick replies to families that are more personal than an auto-reply and faster to use than a gmail canned response (e.g., "Thanks for sending over those records. That info is so helpful.")



Hmm. Maybe I can make a snippet for "Can't respond; at the beach."


6. Fill-in text:


So far we've been making snippets that basically work like an advanced Cut & Paste. Boring! Let's make some more interesting snippets that will really supercharge report-writing.


One of the more useful features in TextExpander is snippets where you can add fill-in text. For example, I write about the child's family living situation in the same way in almost every report. I write a few sentences detailing who the child lives with, parent's professions, any major changes in the family's living situation or significant family stressors over the past few years, and family history.


I have made a snippet famhx that already has most of that text. Here's a picture of the snippet:



Note that the snippet includes gray fill-in boxes. When I type famhx, this box pops up. I fill in each gray box with the correct info, using the 'tab' key to move quickly between boxes. Then I hit "OK" (or return), and the filled-in snippet pops directly into my Word document.


Here's a video of me using snippet:




Here's another snippet I have with a lot of fill-in boxes. This is the one I use if the child has a medical history of medium complexity:



Here I am using this snippet:



Two questions I frequently get at this point are:


Question A: Uh.... How is this 'better' than dictation? It's not necessarily better. Some people would find dictation faster, for sure. I personally like using a snippet because the structure is right there in the snippet. I don't have to think about it. I just pop in the info. I don't forget sections or details, or have to organize it myself. All I have to do is fill-in-the-blanks.


It's almost like Mad Libs for Neuropsychologists.

Worst Game Ever?

Question B. How do I make one of these snippets? It's actually pretty easy to do. All it requires is using the choice "single line field" in TextExpander when making a new snippet. "Single Line Field" is one of the choices available on the "Fill-Ins" Dropdown Menu. (If you don't have TextExpander, you might watch the video I linked above to see what the TextExpander menu looks like before reading on.)


Here's a picture of where I mean:


Let's look at an example of me using the Single Line Field option. In the video linked below, you'll see me create this snippet below, using text from an old report:

Here's a video of me making that snippet in about 5 minutes:




Wow. I do not recommend making videos of your own voice. Talk about cringe. Let's go back to the beach to recover:


7. Drop-Down Menus

For me, the real power of TextExpander is its drop down menu feature. I absolutely love this feature. It has made writing my test results and behavior observations especially easy.


The way this feature works is similar to the single line field, above. However, this time, instead of putting in a fill-in-the-blank, you create your own drop down menu of items to choose from.


Here's a sample of my snippet for interpreting the WISC-V Visual-Spatial Index score. You'll be able to see the drop down menu in the snippet below:


The drop down options in the first menu are exactly what you would expect: very superior, superior, high average, average, low average, well below average, impaired.


For the second drop down menu, I have created 5 choices:

  • NAME will excel when asked to

  • NAME is likely to enjoy tasks that ask HIM/HER

  • These skills will help NAME

  • NAME will benefit from modest support when HE/SHE needs to

  • NAME will need more time and more adult support in order to


What's great about this is, I can pick the correct options in the drop down menus in about 2 seconds. That's right - 2 seconds to write up the WISC-V VSI score!


Here's another example. This one is from my behavior observations for a child evaluation. You'll see how this one has drop downs as well as one fill-in text box:


Some of these drop downs have as few as 3 choices (e.g., boy/girl/child) while others have about 10 options (e.g., mood). The fill-in box at the end of the snippet ensures I individualize the behavior observations even further, by adding a personal detail or two about the child.


Creating these is surprisingly easy from a technical standpoint. Instead of choosing single line field in the "Fill ins" dropdown menu, you select "Popup Menu." You name your menu something you'll remember, then enter in the text for however many choices you'd like, using the '+' button to add more options.


Here's a video of me creating a snippet of the first sentence from that behavior observation paragraph above so you can see how it works:




And here's what we just created in that video:


The difficult part of these creating drop down menus is the thinking time. You have to come up with all of the options for your drop down menus, which requires brainstorming each option than could occur, and then thinking through what it might mean for the child. E.g., you might have to think through what it could mean if a child gets a score on a test that is high, average, low, lower-than-expected, inconsistent, or non-credible, as just some examples.


Then, you have to write the text for each of these drop down options. You also have to write the options and the overall sentence in a way that will be grammatically accurate no matter which option you choose.


This is a lot of work on the front end. I spent probably a week making all my snippets, and there were times when I wanted to scream during the process. But now when I write my test results section in about 20 minutes, I am pretty fond of Past Me. Hang on while I write Past Me a Thank You note:


"Good job Past Me!"

If you don't want to (or don't have time to) put in all that effort right now, you can use fill-in boxes for the same thing. For example, you could make a snippet that looks like:


"NAME's visual-spatial problem-solving skills are in the _____ range for HIS/HER age. When asked to draw, build, or navigate HIS/HER environment, NAME will ______."


You can then just fill in the blanks each time. It's slightly more work than a drop down menu, but less work than having to write it from scratch each time. I also tend to use fill-ins for tests where the options for interpretation are vast. For example, here's my snippet for the BRIEF, which has fill-in boxes where I can write in which scales are elevated:


I then write an extra sentence or two at the end with further interpretation.


Let's take one more trip back to the beach for a little R & R:


8. Optional Text


A final TextExpander option I find useful is "Optional Text." This is another option in the "Fill Ins" drop down menu. "Optional Text" allows you to have text included in your snippet only if it is needed.


For example, it's fairly standard to add in a line about how a child's Full Scale IQ score might not be the best estimate of their overall ability if certain caveats are present. E.g., in certain cases, you may feel the WISC-V GAI or DAS-II Special Nonverbal Composite is a better estimate for that particular child. If you find yourself writing a sentence or two about this often, you can make a snippet that optionally includes that text.


For example, my snippet for the FSIQ looks something like:

In this case, if the box marked "variability" is checked, TextExpander will add in the text highlighted in green (it's green right now because the box is checked). If I uncheck that box, TextExpander will not include that highlighted text. You'll notice there is a fill-in blank at the end for me to include more interpretation if I check this option. Here's another example using my snippet for the Grooved Pegboard. For this one, there are two "Optional Text" boxes:


Here the text is in red to remind me that this text will not be included, because neither box is checked. If I check the box, the highlighting will turn green.


Call to Action We have now reached the limit of what I know how to do with TextExpander. I have heard that you can also nest snippets inside of snippets, or nest snippets in optional text, but I have not explored these functions. Are there any TextExpander master users out there who know how to do these things?


I'm showing off how hip I am with this decade-old meme

What else can you think of to do with TextExpander? Share in the comments below!


Bonus points if you use a snippet to write your comment!

357 views

©2018 by Stephanie Nelson, Ph.D.