TextExpander: How to Create Custom Citations with a Few Keystrokes

TextExpanderHow much time do you spend typing out citations for manuscripts and special collections material? I used to be frustrated that Zotero lacked the ability to format citations for manuscript collections. Each time I needed to insert a citation I had to type out the Archive, Collection Unit, Author, Type of Document, Call Number, and Date.

However, last week I bid goodbye to my days of tedious, time-consuming footnote creation.

I discovered a tool called TextExpander and it simplifies repetitive typing tasks like citation creation.

In this post you will discover the TextExpander app, how it works, and how you can use it to quickly create custom and customizable citations for your manuscripts and special collections material.


TextExpander: An Overview

TextExpander is an app that allows you to create "snippets" of text that automagically appear when you type a custom shortcut.

For example, you could create a shortcut that spells out "by the way" every time you type “BTW.”

You can create snippets for any type of text that you want to generate on a regular basis: e-mail addresses and signatures, address and phone information, responses to regular e-mail inquiries, or citations for manuscripts and special collections.


How to Create Citations with TextExpander

Do you have a special collection or manuscript collection that you cite throughout your books or articles?

Throughout my book I need to cite the "Minutes of the Proceedings of the Committee of the City and County of Albany" located within the Manuscripts and Special Collections division of the New York State Library.

Rather than type out "NYSL, MSC, "Minutes of the Proceedings of the Committee of the City and County of Albany," (SC11783)” each time I need it, I use a time-saving shortcut I created in TextExpander.


General Citation



How to Create a Custom Citation Snippet in 5 Steps

Step 1: Open TextExpander

Step 2: Click the “+” on the lower left side of the app

Step 3: Type the name of your custom citation in the “Label" line below the text box

Step 4: In the text box, enter the text you would like to appear every time you type a shortcut

Step 5: In the abbreviation field below the text box, set the abbreviation you would like to use to trigger TextExpander  (Note that abbreviations are case sensitive. TextExpander recommends you use a colon or semicolon before your shortcut so you do not accidentaly trigger it with a typo.)

Bonus Tip: If you often misspell certain words you can create a snippet that corrects your spelling every time you misspell the word; use all or part of the misspelled word as the trigger abbreviation.

Now the we have created our snippet, all we have to do is type “;Acm,” our custom abbreviation trigger, anytime we want the citation for the Albany Committee minutes to appear.


How to Create Customizable Citations with TextExpander

You can also use TextExpander to create customizable citations.

For example, throughout Chapter 4 of my book I cite letters and affidavits from the Thomas Gage Papers (William L. Clements Library).

Each time I cite documents from this collection, I create a citation that looks roughly the same: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan, AUTHOR, “TYPE OF DOCUMENT,” (Thomas Gage Papers), DATE OF DOCUMENT.

TextExpander allows us to create a customizable citation by using its “Fill in” form feature. This feature allows us to quickly insert new information into our citation everytime we trigger our TextExpander snippet.


TextExpander Custom Field



How to Create a Customizable Citation in 9 Steps

Step 1: Open TextExpander

Step 2: Click the “+” on the lower left side of the app

Step 3: Type the name of your custom citation in the “Label" line below the text box

Step 4: Click the “Content” header located at the top of your text box and select “Formatted Text, Pictures” from the drop-down menu.

Step 5: In the text box, type out your citation until you reach a field that you would like to customize

Step 6: Click the cursor box located underneath the text box on the left and select “Fill In” from the drop-down menu and “Single-Line Field” from the “Fill In” submenu

Step 7: Label the customizable field with the type of information you will insert into it each time it appears

Step 8: Continue typing the citation as you would like it to appear (punctuation and all) until you reach the next part of the citation that you would like to be customizable; Repeat steps 6 & 7 to create your new field

Step 9: In the abbreviation field below the text box, create an abbreviation that will trigger your customizable citation


TextExpander Final Form Image


TextExpander Completed Form

Once you have created your snippet, type your custom abbreviation each time you want to trigger the citation and a box will appear where you can insert the information that will customize your citation.

After you have inserted all of the relevant information into your form, click “OK” and your citation will insert wherever you have placed your cursor.


TextExpanded Customized Citation



TextExpander saves time and makes repetitive citation entry a breeze.

The app also saves me time when it comes to other repetitive typing tasks such as when I want to request a rating and review for my podcast when listeners reach out. Each time I wish to make a request, I type my shortcut and TextExpander produces my short paragraph of text and links in my e-mail, tweet, Facebook post, etc.

Imagine what TextExpander can do for you in your correspondence and writing.


ThinkWhat Do You Think?

Do you think TextExpander will save you time and energy?

How do you use (or plan to use) TextExpander to save you time?


Note About TextExpander Compatibility

TextExpander is a Mac-only app. However, Lifehacker has tried and reviewed several PC text expander apps and recommends PhraseExpress as the best.

*I am not affiliated with either TextExpander or PhraseExpress. I am simply a fan of how TextExpander works. None of the links in this post are affiliate links.


5 Apps That Will Improve Your Writing Workflow

Here is a brief overview of 5 apps I use for writing. Each app has improved my writing workflow.

OmniOutliner-Mac-512OmniOutliner 4

Screen Shot 2014-05-05 at 5.47.55 PMIf you need to outline articles and book chapters before you write them, you should check out OmniOutliner.

What I love most: It’s intuitive to use.

I can create new sections and subsections with ease by using the "enter" and "tab" keys on my keyboard.

Here’s a screenshot of the outline I created for my first book chapter. Each subsection contains the books and articles I want to consult and where I will find them.

Price: $49.99



Scrivener ScreenshotScrivener is “a powerful content-generation tool for writers." It excels at helping you compose and structure large writing projects.

Scrivener is a great first draft tool. I use it to compose all of my first drafts: blog posts, articles, and book chapters.

What I love most: the ability to outline my work, focus on its individual parts, and reorganize those parts as needed.

I also love the ability to add notes and reminders about my project in a separate window to the right side of my document.

Price: $45 (Google Search for a coupon. Affiliates often have codes for 20% off.)



Zotero is an easy-to-use tool that helps researchers collect, organize, cite, and share their research.

Zotero makes writing easier because it to automagically formats the bibliographic information you collect into the citation format of your choice.

Zotero can also generate a bibliography for your document.

What I love most: Automatic citation formatting and bibliography generation. These functions save me a lot of time.

Price: Free


Drive Screen ShotGoogleDrive allows you to create. organize, and store files in the cloud.

You can use Drive to create documents, spreadsheets, survey forms, PowerPoint/Keynote-like presentations, and drawings.

Google allows you to create and store all of your GoogleDrive files and up to 15GB worth of e-mail and non-Drive files for free.

What I love most: Ubiquity and Zotero compatibility.

I can access my files from GoogleDrive whether I am at my computer or on my smartphone.

I can also use and create Drive files while offline. (You must setup this feature.)

Finally, Zotero is compatible with Drive.

Just drag and drop your citations from Zotero into your footnote/endnote field. Zotero will automagically create the citation in your preferred citation format, which you select in the Zotero ‘Preferences->Export’ menu.

Price: Free, Extra file storage starts at $1.99/month for 100GB.




Characters App Screen ShotAre you tired of trying to learn and keep up with keyboard shortcuts to insert special characters into your document? Do you use a Mac?

If you answered ‘yes’ to the above questions, check out ‘Characters.’

Characters creates a drop down menu in your top menu bar. From there you can scroll through and select the special character you need. After you click on the character you want, just paste it into your writing. (Keyboard shortcut for paste: ⌘ V)

What I love: I no longer have to hunt for the symbols menu or remember the keyboard shortcuts for £, é, ø, or ã.

Characters also has a ‘Most Used’ section at the top of its menu, which it will populate based on the characters you select the most.

Price: $2.99


What Do You Think?

What is your favorite writing app? Why do you love it?


Work Flow: How I Organize My Research and Writing

On Friday September 27, from 10:30am to 1:30pm, I will teach an interactive course at Grub Street called “How to Organize Your Writing, Ideas, and Research.” This seminar will show writers how they can use Evernote, Zotero, and DEVONthink to better manage their ideas and research. Preparing for this seminar has caused me to think about how I use Evernote, Zotero, and DEVONthink to organize my research and writing.


My Work Flow


Zotero is a free, easy-to-use tool that helps researchers collect, organize, cite, and share their research.

In 2006, I started using Zotero as a bibliographic and citation tool, and as an organizational database for my dissertation research. I liked the fact that Zotero was free and that it was less tedious than the notecard system my advisor had introduced me to. I also liked that Zotero made my research portable via my laptop and searchable with tags and keywords.

Zotero served me well for my dissertation. It helped me organize my data, collect bibliographic information from the web, format my footnotes into the Chicago Manual of Style, and generate a bibliography.

However by 2011, I found that I wanted a more powerful program. Zotero became slow and ‘clunky’ to use as my database surpassed 16,000 entries.



In 2010, I began using Evernote in conjunction with Zotero.

I use Evernote as my digital filing cabinet. In fact, I got rid of 5 physical filing cabinets by scanning my records and filing them into Evernote. Evernote is where I keep all of my journal articles, manuscript photocopies, teaching materials, notes from various projects, seminar and conference notes, and my research notebook. I also use Evernote to organize my household records.

The Evernote app for my smartphone allows me to take my filing cabinet with me wherever I go. The ability to carry my filing cabinet with me has been immensely useful. Not only can I look up an article on-the-go, but I can also immediately record any ideas I have or research leads I find into Evernote.

I believe Evernote is the “Goldilocks” of organizational tools. Users can electronically store their research materials and find what they need with a click of a tag or a keyword search. Evernote’s new enhanced OCR search can even locate some handwritten documents.

Despite its great capabilities, I have not been able to wrap my head around the idea of using Evernote as my research database. Part of the reason for that is that I need a database that allows me to manipulate my notes to appear chronologically or by topic.

After reading rave reviews about DEVONthink on the web and in the AHA’s Perspectives early last year, I started to play with DEVONthink Pro.


DEVONthinkDEVONthink Pro

DEVONthink manages information. The program archives e-mails, PDFs, scanned documents, MS Word documents, PowerPoint slides, iWork files, and websites.

I started using DEVONthink in February 2013. I find that it excels as a large database. I use Smart Folders to manipulate my notes so I can view them any way I need to.

DEVONthink’s artificial intelligence feature helps me write. When I look up a note or document transcription, the A.I. feature recommends other records with like content that I have stored in the database. (Recently, Evernote added a “Related Notes” feature at the bottom of its notes that performs a similar function).

Also, DEVONthink is fast. DEVONthink searches faster than Evernote because it is based on my hard drive. Although I could use DEVONthink as a digital filing cabinet, I don’t because it lacks the portability of Evernote.


Summary of Work Flow

Presently, I employ all three programs to organize my research and writing. I use Zotero for bibliographies and citations, Evernote as my filing cabinet, and DEVONthink as my research database. My method may seem cumbersome, but my brain likes knowing that my research is separate from everything else. Moreover, by the time Evernote came out with its “Related Notes” feature and OCR search capabilities, I had already paid for and started to use DEVONthink.


What Do You Think?

What does your work flow look like? What software do you use to organize your research and writing?


Read Faster: How Amazon Kindle Makes Research More Efficient

kindleRecently, I posted how Evernote has modified the way I work as a historian. The Kindle Touch also has changed the way I work for the better. Amazon Kindle helps me read faster and more efficiently with its my clippings feature. For reading, I find my Kindle better than my iPad because it is lightweight, easy to hold, and easier on my eyes. I am also a big fan of Kindle's "My Clippings" feature, which Amazon does not include in the Kindle app.

As with the Kindle app, the Kindle device allows you to make notes and highlight text.

To highlight text on the Kindle Touch you briefly hold your finger on the word that starts the passage you want to highlight and then trace your finger to the final word of the excerpt.

When you lift your finger off the device the software asks you whether you want to highlight the text or add a note.

If you press the "add note" button the Kindle gives you a blank note bubble where you can write down your thoughts on the passage.

Unlike the Kindle app, the Kindle device adds all of your highlighted text and notes to a file called "My Clippings," which you can access via the home screen or from your PC or Mac. The fact that you can download and modify this file on your computer represents the best part about the Kindle because it is can be a HUGE time saver.

I use a pencil to bracket passages and make margin notes when I read a book.

After I am done reading, I spend a lot of time transcribing these important passages and notes into Zotero or Evernote.

The "My Clippings" feature saves me a lot of time. When I finish reading a book on my Kindle, I load the "My Clippings" file onto my computer and then cut and paste my note and passages into Zotero or Evernote.

Although I love my Kindle, it does not always make my work easier.

Not all of the books I want/need to read have page numbers associated with them.

This presents a problem in that I have to look up the passages I highlighted in the actual book in order to properly cite them. Sometimes this process cancels out the time I saved by downloading the "My Clippings" file. As I have yet to find a way around this problem, I sometimes have to decide whether or not it might be better to purchase the hard copy of the book over its eBook version. My decision usually comes down to the weight and size of the book and the price difference between the two formats.

With that said, the Kindle has increased my productivity.

I read more with Kindle. Whenever I go out I slip my Kindle into my purse, briefcase, or backpack so that I have it when I sit in waiting rooms, travel, or find myself with a free moment. If the eBook has page numbers I also save a lot of time using the "My Clippings" feature to keep track of and transfer my notes into my research files.