WBR Tech Tool: TextExpander

Updated: Jan 30, 2020

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