[Tutorial] Use and create text shortcuts in Windows and OS X

Consider for a moment the amount of type you spend typing on a computer on an average day and how your skills have progressed since you first stared in awe of the “Personal Computer”. Chances are that you have developed quite a few techniques to help with your typing and I am here to tell you that there are other tricks to learn which may help you even more.

What are text shortcuts?

They say that a picture is a thousand words so I challenge you to calculate just how many words the following GIF entails:GIF


As you can see from the animated image, a text shortcut is an automated way of entering new text based on shortcuts that you have created and customized beforehand. In this example, I have set “Be right back!” to be automatically entered every time I type “brb!” in any app of my PC. The configuration options you can send are nearly endless but the important thing is that you probably have a fine grasp of what text shortcuts look like on a PC.

Text shortcuts on a Mac

Apple’s OS X is the undoubted king of this field as the operating system has included built-in text shortcut tools since its early days. That means you do not have to install any apps as everything you need can be found in your Mac already.

OS X Text Shortcut

  1. Open the Keyboard settings, either by searching for keyboard on Spotlight or by navigating to it via Applications > Utilities > System Preferences.
  2. Once you open the Keyboard window, head over to the Text tab.
  3. The only options you should care about right now are the “Replace” and “With” columns. In the first one, enter the abbreviation or other type of short text. In the second column, enter the text you want to replace the abbreviations with. For instance, you can enter “brb” on the first column and “be right back” on the second one.

As you can see, the options here are pretty basic but they should be fine for most people. With that said, know that you can enter pretty much anything in the two columns and it will be recognized by the system. For instance, you can replace text with emoticons which is great for long-winding characters. Furthermore, the shortcuts will be saved on iCloud so you can actually use them on your iOS device too.

If you would like more advanced options then you should be prepared to pay cold, hard cash for the privilege. Apps like Typinator, aText and FastFox’s Typing Expander all offer a wide range of additional customization options but a license has to be purchased for all of them.

Text shortcuts on a Windows PC

Though Microsoft does not provide a built-in text shortcuts tool in Windows, independent developers have more than made up for it. Unlike in OS X where the only free option is provided by Apple, Windows users have quite a lot of apps to choose from. And while I could talk to you about the paid options, the free ones will do the trick just fine and you will not have to spend a staggering $40+ just to expand your typing prowess a bit.

PhraseExpress (Standard or Portable)

The first of the two apps on the list also happens to be my favorite one due to the shocking amount of customization options it offers. Pretty much every aspect of the application can be configured to suit your very personal needs, including the way shortcuts are entered as you type them. After launching the app for the first time, click on the “New Phrase” button, enter the short-form text in the “Autotext” field and what it should be replaced with in the “Phrase content field. You can also enter a description so that you know what the phrase is about though you can simply enter the shortcut again.


The best part of PhaseExpress is that it has tips all over the place so you should never feel lost. Just hover your mouse above any button and you will get a short description of what it does. For instance, holding the Ctrl button while clicking on “OK” will save your settings and keep the window open whereas merely clicking the button will minimize the window to the system tray.

PhaseExpress Settings

After configuring a few phrases, I would highly recommend heading over to the settings because that is where the best parts are located. To enter the settings menu, click on Tools > Settings or right-click on the “Autotext” dropdown menu and select the Configure option. Here you will be able to view and manage hotkeys, enable sound notifications, change AutoSuggest options and configure the delimiters. Delimiters are characters that, once entered, will automatically prompt text replacements. For example, if I set “}” as a delimiter, it will automatically replace the word before it with the one I have configured from before. This option is merely an alternative to the default way of replacing shortcuts which is done simply by pressing Enter after typing a word. There are plenty of options to choose from and they are all available in the “Autotext” dropdown menu.


An app solely aimed at those who are looking for the simplest solution to their keyboard woes, SecondKey does not have the configuration options of PhaseExpress but it can certainly do a lot of the same tricks. After installing the application and launching it for the first time, SecondKey will take you through a very detailed tutorial which is very easy to follow and will teach you everything you need to know about it. Basically, SecondKey can not only replace text shortcuts but it can also serve as a basic auto-correct application to capitalize phrases and replace misspelled words. The free version limits the amount of custom words you can add to 500 but once you get at that point, you are basically an expert anyway.


As a bonus note, you can disable the application’s annoying overlay by right-clicking on its system tray icon and selecting the “Hide SecondKey” option. Clicking on the icon will enable it once again though you can simply use the provided shortcuts and keep it hidden forever if you wish.