Use Word’s AutoCorrect as a Text Expander

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Text expansion is a pretty simple concept: you type in a very short string of characters and they automatically transform into a longer word or phrase. If you have phrases you use a lot (or something that requires especially fiddly typing or formatting), text expansion software can speed up document creation.

Most Microsoft Word users don’t know they can use Word’s AutoCorrect feature to do virtually anything a dedicated text expansion application can do. It can even save formatted AutoCorrect text entries.1

Example: Id.

Take, for example, the abbreviation for the word ibid. Yes, it’s a short word, but you have to underline or italicize it every time. Hit CTRL-I, I, d, [period], CTRL-I often enough, and your hands will start to cramp in the middle of your brief. Using AutoCorrect to keep your fingers on the letter keys can help.

First, type the word or phrase you want to appear in your text (formatting included, if that’s important). Then, select just that word/phrase (and not any end-of-paragraph characters that Word embeds into the text). Clicking the Show/Hide button (looks like a paragraph symbol) in the middle of the Home tab will show you the hidden codes within the text.

Word-2016-select-ibid-correctly

Then, click on the File tab and go to Options:

Word-2016-file-options

Along the left-hand side of the Options dialog box, click Proofing, then AutoCorrect Options:

Word-2016-word-options-proofing

That will bring up the AutoCorrect dialog box:

Word-2016-auto-correct-ibid

Since you’ve already got your word/phrase selected, that’s already populated in the With field.

  1. If you want your expanded text formatted, click the radio button next to Formatted Text. Otherwise, select Plain Text.
  2. Type the text string you want transformed into the expanded text into the Replace field. Some users recommend prefixing it with a symbol such as “@” or “=” to make that entry truly unique. For example, you don’t want to use “id.” as the shortcut because Word might replace the word “said.” with “saId.
  3. Click Add to add the entry.
  4. Click OK to finish.

Try out your new AutoCorrect entry to ensure it works.

autocorrect-ibid

 


  1. Unless otherwise noted, all instructions and screenshots are from Microsoft Word 2016 for Windows. 

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  • Unfortunately, Microsoft Word’s autocorrect is a very poor implementation of text expansion.

    First, it only works in Microsoft products, which is obviously a huge downside.

    Second, it has no bells and whistles, nor even the ability to add key presses (like control, tab, space, etc.)

    Why not use Breevy if your computer is locked down or the actual TextExpander which now has a Windows version? Both are excellent.

    • legalofficeguru

      Having certain text expansion only work within Microsoft Word is not necessarily a “huge downside”. I’ve used both global text expanders and this method, and there are certain shortcuts (like this one) that I prefer be context-specific (in other words, only occurring within word processing documents and not, say, in the timekeeping app). As with so many things, it’s a personal preference.

      Also, not every law firm allows users to install their own apps and plugins. This method can be used by people even within locked-down IT environments.

      • Thanks for the follow up Deborah!

        You can use Breevy portable in any IT environment that allows you to open an application, so it should be good to go in most law firms as there is nothing to install. You just have to make sure you’re using the “portable” version. Add it to your “Startup” menu and you’ll be able to use it instantly every day.

        I find it much more helpful to be able to expand snippets in any application – not sure why I would prefer to limit it to one application and in fact find it very confusing when I type a snippet and it doesn’t expand.

        You bring up a great point about timekeeping apps. Time entries require writing the same pieces of text over and over again, so are perfect uses for text expansion. Unfortunately Microsoft’s autocorrect won’t help there.

        • legalofficeguru

          And thanks for your follow-up. It’s an interesting option, and you and I will have to “agree to disagree” about the questions of “install and learn another app” versus “learn the app I already have”, etc. What I present here is an option, one you don’t prefer, and that’s fine.

          In the interest of full disclosure, what’s your connection with Breevy? Fan/User? Employee? Investor?

          • I think we’re on the same page here, but just to be clear, you can’t use Microsoft’s autocorrect feature outside of Microsoft products (unless I’m missing something). So, for instance, it’s not an option to use the examples presented above in an application like DTE.

            I didn’t mean to criticize your solution. It’s a great one, but just rather limiting from my perspective given the other options available. It seems like you place value in knowing that your snippets won’t expand in other applications, whereas I see that as the limiting functionality of relying on Microsoft. I think that’s where we “agree to disagree”.

            To give yourself and any other readers a concrete example, I use text expansion to remember complicated billing codes. For example, instead of remembering Project Tiger’s billing code, I simply type #tiger and it’s automatically replaced with a series of numbers like 999999-123456. I need that functionality in Word, DTE, on the pop-up that shows up when I’m required to enter a billing code when I print something, etc.

            I also use !firm as a trigger for my firm’s address or “xcc” to type out my conference call dial-in information. Again, both are something I need to use across many platforms.

            As for disclosure, I’m just a lawyer stuck and frustrated with using outdated Microsoft technology like most Biglaw lawyers. I’d use TextExpander if I could, but installation requires administrator approval. As a consolation prize, I use Breevy.

            • legalofficeguru

              Your description is consistent with the way I’ve used other global text expanders and is a good way to use them. And I understand your point about the limitation of using a “hacked” text expansion within Microsoft Word.

              My concern with a lot of Word users is that they declare “Word doesn’t do ‘X'” and immediately look for an outside solution (like purchasing a plugin) which adds to system overhead (never mind the $ cost). This hack may serve all the text expansion needs some people have. For others, the solution needs to work across applications. Each solution has trade-offs, and they should be recognized as such.

              Thanks for presenting that solution!

              • We’re in total agreement on that and you make a great point. Microsoft Word is a powerful program and plugins are often not the answer. If you want to do “X”, I’be willing to bet there’s a solution within Word already. Articles like this are valuable resources to open users eyes to the possibilities!

  • Ian Steward

    I agree with all the comments below! I am not a professional ‘document generator’ but I now use Phrase Express to help me with text expansion and boiler plating in my proposals and reports. There is a portable version for Windows and it does work across all apps, not just Office.

    It is also inexpensive!

    Just my 2p