Barney’s and Jeremy’s posts about electronic grading got me thinking: is there an autotext app that would work across platforms, whether we’re grading in Word or Blackboard or googledocs or Pages? For years I’ve used the Quickwords function in WordPerfect – I type a short word like /awk and it inserts an entire comment about what’s awkward about the sentence in question.
Program-linked utiliies have their problems, though. My Quickwords don’t work when I’m grading in Blackboard or turnitin or Word. And every time I update my software or hardware or use a different computer, I have to remember to recopy the template file, and it’s buggy and doesn’t always work properly.
The freeware utility PhraseExpress is the solution to this dilemma – and almost too good to be true. Download, install, and, from the system tray (remember to turn on the icon) it allows you to copy frequently used snippets of text and insert them into any document, any program, any platform. . .except, naturally, Macs (see alternative below). Now, no matter what program I’m using, when I type in the word “orgno,” PhraseExpress inserts my suggestions about how to reorganize a chaotic paragraph. I have a library of these snippets from my 25 years of teaching, and it took me about half an hour to insert all of them into PhraseExpress. When I create new ones, all I have to do is click the icon, select “new snippet,” and it’s added to my library.
There’s a USB-based portable version of PhraseExpress if you use multiple computers.
PhraseExpress also allows you to import a variety of files like Word AutoCorrect and AutoText entries so that you don’t have to retype the snippets you’re already using.
A couple of suggestions:
When you name a snippet, give it a name that doesn’t correspond to an existing word. My system of naming enlists an abbreviation of the issue (such as “org” for organization problem) plus the word “yes” (for “you’re doing it well!”) or “no” (with instructions about how to do it better).
I keep a list of these snippet names next to my computer for easy access when I’m grading.
For Mac users, AutoTextExpander is a similar utility. I found it slightly less intuitive than PhraseExpress, and it costs $29.95 after a brief trial period, but it’s a full-featured alternative that works in both Mac and Windows.