Starting with TextExpander


After releasing my Brief Guide to a Better Email, I got a lot of questions about how to use snippet apps and the best way to set them up. So let’s dive in to some nuts and bolts of how I use my snippet app.

Personally, I use TextExpander. It’s easy to use and really affordable. TextExpander allows you to create “Snippets”, which are bits of text you can insert into an email with only a few keystrokes. It’s easy to organize snippets into folders and extend them for all sorts of use cases.

Your snippets aren’t locked into your support app so you can always take them with you if you change. Plus, each person on your support team can customize them to their tone and writing style. You can go with other apps if you’d like but for this one, we’ll be focusing on Text Expander.

Creating your first snippet


You’ll click on the “New Snippet” button in the top left. That’ll give you the content area where you can put your snippet. Start with ones you use a lot like your signature, your contact info, and things along those lines. For me, you can see I’ve got my work address in there for this one.

Next up, give it a label. Something that’s memorable so you know what it does when you’re looking through a list of snippets. Then add the abbreviation for it at the bottom.

The abbreviation is critical. Too short and it’s easy to trigger the snippet accidentally. Too long and you’re not going to remember it. You want to be like Goldilocks and use something just right in the middle.

One other thing I like to point out with abbreviations is to use a key at the front that you don’t typically use. In this case, I put “so” in front of my Support Ops snippets and then follow it up with something I can remember. “sowm” is for “Support Ops work mail”.

Saving happens automatically with Text Expander. Open up a text doc and enter your new abbreviation. Remember, it’s case sensitive so AB is different from aB. If your snippets appears, you’re all set with your first snippet!

Pro Tip: Include your working hours inside your signature. It’ll help customers to know if you’re online and when you’ll be replying to them.


From that screenshot before, you’ll see that I’ve gotten a ton of snippets. To keep them straight, I break them up into different groups. Creating a new group is as easy as creating a new snippet. Just click that button that says “New Groups”.

I break mine up into groups around the apps I support. So you’ll see Basecamp, Highrise, Campfire, etc. Those are all apps that we support at 37signals. Grouping them that way makes finding, managing, and updating them painless.

The other trick I use for grouping is within the abbreviation. At 37signals, I use “bcx” for the start of my Basecamp snippets and “hr” for Highrise to keep them straight in my head. So I might have a snippet called “hrmerge” to talk about merging inside Highrise.

Groups are your friend. Use them when you first start out to save the time and headache of setting them up after adding your 100th snippet.

Advanced snippets


Your typical snippets are straightforward. Your signature, your contact info, etc. But what if you wanted to start on the road to true snippet mastery?

The next step would be auto-filling so you can convey some customization in your emails. Let’s take an easy example.

That’s my closing signature. See that %A at the end of the sentence? That’s Text Expander’s way of setting today’s date.

To get that, click on the cursor icon to the left of the label line. You’ll be given lots of different choices. We want “Date” and then “Day: Monday” Click that and you’ll have that %A in your snippet content.

Now when you type out that abbreviation, Text Expander will automatically put in today’s name. Your customers will get that closing line with a hint of customization. You save time from having to type that out each time.

That cursor icon holds a ton of other auto-fills like this. I’ll let you experiment with the others on your own since you know how they work now.

You can even have snippets inside of snippets! Cue the Inception soundtrack.

Pro Tip: Want even more snippet examples? Check out my Brief Guide to a Better Email for examples of snippets I use every day.

Sync your snippets

All these snippets won’t help if they’re not on the computers you use. Thankfully, the team behind TextExpander thought about that one. You’ll have a way to sync them to other devices. Head over to the Preferences pane and you’ll see the Sync option there. No point in typing them out twice, right?

More info on syncing here.

Use a snippet app

Lots of support apps will have some sort of macro/snippet tool built into it. The reason why I don’t use those is because your support app will probably be down at some point. Most online apps have downtime every now and then. Let’s just prepare for the worst and say it’ll happen to you.

When your support app goes down, you can at least still reply to emails directly in your email inbox. But all those snippets won’t be available to you if they’re locked up inside your support app.

Or what if you decide to change to a different support app? I bet those snippets won’t transfer over.

Having a specific snippet app like TextExpander keeps you going if either of those things ever happens.

Easy as 1-2-3

And that’s it! Nothing to fear when it comes to setting up your snippets. If you haven’t yet, grab a copy of TextExpander and start using it today. It’ll pay for itself the first time you blaze through all those Monday morning emails that used to take forever.

  • Josh

    This is great. I started using text expander, per a prior suggestion of yours, but I’m trying to make the jump to snippet mastery. There are some pretty brilliant bits of customizing you can do (their HTML snippets are amazing!) and I’m working on rounding out my stash of snippets.

    Maybe a future article could be actual examples of your favorite snippets? The “have an awesome [today]!” is a great idea. I’d love to see more like that.

    • Chase Clemons

      Definitely so! I’ll start working on a post about those other snippets I use all the time.

  • Micah Bennett

    Great stuff Chase!

    I’ve only dabbled with text expansion since my need hasn’t quite met the learning curve, but I’m probably getting close to that point. Anyone have any good recommendations for Windows users? There doesn’t seem to be a tool as beloved as Text Expander for that OS.

    • Chase Clemons

      Thanks Micah! I’ve heard good things about these two Windows apps:

      Just overlook the lovely design of the sites. 😉

    • Andrea Nagar

      I think that PhraseExpander for Windows (full disclosure: I’m the owner of the company) can be as powerful (and for certain things even more) as TextExpander for Mac

      Compared to the other Windows products mentioned we offer:
      1. Smartcomplete: you don’t need to remember the abbreviations as they are displayed as you type (so that you don’t need to remember them)
      2. Unmatched ability to create powerful forms with lists and grids (useful when you need to create a template that you can customize each time with a few clicks)
      3. Ability to compose emails and launch applications on top of expanding text
      4. The ability to synchronize phrases among different users
      5. Ability to import your Snippets from TextExpander

      PS: we also have a design that should appeal to Mac users as well. :-)

  • Carolin Geissler

    Thanks for that, Chase. I think I’ll download the demo to see if it can substitute Word’s AutoCorrect feature I’ve been using for automatic text snippets until now 😉

    • Chase Clemons

      Nice workaround with the AutoCorrect tool. I never would have thought to use that!

  • Tyler Rooney

    Our support team uses TextExpander like crazy and sync the settings file over Dropbox.

    One big support issue we have is helping people configure the DNS settings for their own domain names so, as you can image, with have TextExpander snippets for things like IP addresses at different domain registrars. Huge time saver as no one can memorize that kinda stuff.

    Another big time-saver is having snippets for common URLs within your app.

    I also love how TextExpander tells you how much time it has saved you. The cost of a license is basically paid back on the first day of use!

    • Chase Clemons

      Totally so! It was the best money I ever spent.

      And nice tip with the Dropbox sync!