Textexpander is a wonderful tool. It allows you to define little text shortcuts called snippets that will expand to something bigger, like full names or entire text blocks including figures. They can even trigger scripts. The beauty of TextExpander is that it works in any application wherever you type. If you don't know this application yet, you should definitely check it out. Maybe the best way is to have a look at the screencasts provided by SmileSoftware – the makers of Textexpander.
There exists even a corresponding iOS application (now with it's own TextExpander keyboard) that synchs your snippets to your mobile devices via Dropbox. David Sparks made a nice little video that shows this new iOS 8 TextExpander keyboard.
I use TextExpander heavily – all the time and everywhere. Whenever something pops up that I have to write more than once, I design a snippet for it. As a result, I have hundreds of snippets. In this blog post I concentrate on the ones that I use in emails. I hope this is useful for your workflows and maybe they even inspire you to come up with new ones.
Snippets for writing great subject lines
Subject lines are very important. If they are good, they help the recipient(s) to see immediately what the email is about and they allow to find it later more easily. Since nowadays we get so many emails, it is crucial to have a great subject line. If you use consistently useful subject lines people will appreciate it.
Great subject lines is one of the details that will make you remarkable in interacting with other people.
I work on various projects and with a range of different groups. For example, we collaborate to write papers and proposals, to organize conferences or special issues, to coordinate a report, or to do research. For any ongoing collaboration that involves multiple persons and that is driven by emails I define labels that I use in subject lines and I design corresponding TextExpander snippets. These labels usually look like "[Conference on World Dominance]" or "[Project X]". Therefore, I start all subject line snippets with "[" , followed by a key letter like "c" (conference), "r" (report), "p" (paper), or similar, and add some additional letters for the specific project.
Here are some examples how these snippets look like:
|[cgs||[Conference on Great Stuff]|
|[rx||[Report on Project X]|
|[pthm||[Paper on Theoretical Models]|
|[pxb||[Project X budget]|
Snippets for declining job requests
In academia it is quite common to receive numerous emails where people apply unsolicitedly for jobs or internships. I believe, if someone has made the effort to contact me, they deserve also an answer, even if it is negative.
I have defined a TextExpander snippet for fast response. In general, I use the prefix ".e" for all my email templates, therefore, I use for this one ".e.reject".
Thank you very much for your email. We appreciate your interest in our work. Unfortunately, we don't have any funding available right now. Thank you for your understanding.
I wish you the best of luck for your job search.
With my very best wishes,
Of course you can design different email templates for different reasons for rejections (e.g., maybe you have funding, but the person is not qualified). If you have TextExpander 4 you can even build snippets, where you choose from predefined different options (i.e., called Fill-ins).
Tip: I use the same style for handling all applications coming in after we have made a call for an open position. Usually, I have a template with a confirmation that we have received their application, another for rejections, and another for great candidates to get in touch for further interviews.
Sometimes I have to write a whole series of people very similar emails. For that I also define email templates. For example, I used that when I organized the entire review process of a conference (contact, follow-up, etc.), or when I organized a special issue and an e-book on a research topic (invitation, reviewers' feedback, follow-up, results, etc.).
For such longer (email) templates I use a snippet style with a "." as prefix, an idendifier of the project, and a keyword to define the type of the text.
Here are some examples:
|.eb.invite||template for the invitation email for the e-book|
|.eb.reject||template for the rejection email for a submission to the e-book|
|.si.remind||template for the follow-up email for the special issue|
Snippets for referring to people
Working in an international environment I often have to deal with names from different cultures. So they are really hard to remember – at least for me – and even harder to write correctly. Instead of looking them up every time I want to write the name, I have defined snippets for the full names – therefore, they start with an "f". So instead of "Albert Einstein" I would have a snippet "fbert". Here are some more examples how this could look like:
|frob||R. Daneel Olivaw|
|fjoff||His Grace, Joffrey of the Houses Baratheon and Lannister, the First of His Name, King of the Andals and the First Men, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms, and Protector of the Realm.|
Snippets for structuring your email
For longer emails I use TextExpander snippets to structure the text and to highlight important parts like deadlines.
They are also very useful when you have multiple points in an email and each of it is a couple of paragraphs. Here is an example how this can look like:
Here are the snippets that I use. You can download them here.
|2==|| ======================================== |
Tip: I use the same snippets to structure any text file. For example, I use them a lot in nvALT.
Snippets for citing publications
Often when I communicate with students or other collaborators I refer to my work or to important publications of my field. For example, when I have a new PhD student or new members of our lab, I send them a list of relevant publications. For that case I have defined snippets. They all start with "cite" followed by some additional letters.
Here are some examples:
|citeroy|| Nakajima K.; Li T.; Hauser H.; and Pfeifer R. |
"Exploiting short-term memory in soft body dynamics as a computational resource"
Journal Royal Society Interface , 6 November, 2014, vol. 11, no. 100, 20140437
DOI: 10.1098/ rsif.2014.0437
|citemc1|| Hauser, H.; Ijspeert, A.; Füchslin, R.; Pfeifer, R. & Maass, W. |
"Towards a theoretical foundation for morphological computation with compliant bodies"
Biological Cybernetics, Springer Berlin / Heidelberg, 2011, 105, 355-370 http://www.springerlink.com/content/j236312507300638/
If I refer to multiple sources in one email, I often put them at the end of the email in form of a list of references and I refer to them with , , etc.
For this case, I make duplicates of all my "cite" snippets and let them begin with "ncite" (n stands for numbered). These snippets include a fill-in part – [%fill:number%] – which allows you to define a number value for the reference.
If you want make your own, make sure you enable "rich format" for your snippet (this shows also an example that uses the fill-in feature). In addition, I change the fontsize and font to the same that I use in Mail so that the added list does not look alien.
I use a similar trick for a list of ULRs I refer to in my emails. The snippet is defined like this:
|nlink||[%fill:number%] %clipboard|| http://www.google.com|
Textexpander will ask for a "number" and will add the current clipboard text (in the example "http://www.google.com" was in the clipboard buffer).
So if you copy an URL – you can do that in the browser with ⌘+L and then ⌘+C– right before calling the snippet, Textexpander adds this URL automatically as a list item.
Snippets for saying good bye
Finally, at the end of an email you say "good bye," or "best regards," or "cheers." or any other. For me this depends on the person I am writing to and also a little bit on my mood. Here are the ones that I use:
|atb|| All the best, |
|breg|| Best regards, |
|chee|| Cheers, |
Update Dec. 6, 2014: There is also a nice little script from Smile Software (the makers of TextExpander), which they use as an example on how to use scripts with Textexpander. It randomly chooses a greeting from a predefined list → link.
- I use also snippets for a number of recurrent expressions like
|(sse||(see email below)|
|(ssm||(for more information see below)|
- Others are my telephone number or my Skype name
- Aleh Cherp from Macademic, which is a great blog on how to use cleverly a Mac in Academia, has published a series of great tips on how to use TextExpander
- David Sparks has a nice list of how to say thank you in various languages
- Tip: The citation snippets "cite" come in handy also during Skype meetings
Work smart and be remarkable!
Have a great day,