We’ve all been there. You’ve been working on a project spread across multiple documents for months (like a dissertation or a book, or even multiple articles, job documents, CVs, etc.) and you’re finally ready to submit it. You’re putting the finishing touches on it, and you go for what you think is one final read. Then you notice it.
For me, the moment came when I was close to submitting my dissertation. After reading over the first page of my third chapter, I saw it: “coupé-décalé“–italics, all lower case. It was the same throughout the rest of the chapter, but my heart still sank when I saw it. You see, I’d written the third chapter before the introduction, and sometime between writing the two, I’d switched my own formatting convention for the term: now, I used “Coupé-décalé,” upper-case “c,” no italics in all my writing (later dissertation chapters, job documents, presentations, my CV, etc.). Worse, realizing that I’d switched my own formatting convention on this term in particular caused me to ask what other formatting inconsistencies marred my dissertation. After going back, identifying other key terms, and choosing a standard formatting to use throughout the documents, I spent many hours using Word’s “Advanced Find and Replace” tool–a curse I do not wish on anyone.
But going back and ensuring consistency across all my dissertation’s chapters did not ensure that going forward, I would continue to follow my own consistency rules. I also realized that it would have been much easier had I, early on in my project, identified key terms that I’d be using throughout my project, deliberately chosen standard formatting to use along the way, and then set up software tools to automatically correct my terms as I typed going forward. Now, any time I start a new project, I use the tools below to format my text as I go, across all programs.
If you’re looking to drastically reduce the amount of time and energy you spend making your terms consistent automatically, without having to think about it, then I highly recommend you take some time now to define terms you use frequently and consider setting up TextExpander now to manage your large academic writing projects. The time you invest now will pay dividends down the line.
Using TextExpander to Automatically Keep Formatting and Capitalization Consistent
TextExpander is a small, program that runs in the background on any computer (Mac and PC) or on iOS. You can try it for free for 30 days; after that it costs $40/year, which, in my view, is well worth the expense. It can do much more than expand shortcuts (called “Abbreviations”) into larger chunks of text (called “snippets”), but for right now I’m just going to show you how to use it for the purposes of ensuring consistency across large projects. Here’s how to set it up.
Example: I want to set up TextExpander so that any way I type “exposition coloniale” will automatically format that phrase to “Exposition coloniale” (italics, capital “e” only).
- Download and Install TextExpander.
- Click “New Snippet.”
- If you want your text to be italicized (or otherwise formatted), switch the “Plain Text” option to “Formatted Text, Pictures”
- Type the phrase exactly as you’d like it to appear in all documents from now on, including formatting and capitalization. (In my example, I type ““Exposition coloniale”.)
- In the “Abbreviation” field, type the phrase you’d like it to monitor and replace. (In my example, I type “exposition coloniale”.) You do not need to worry about capitalization because…
- You will change the “Case Sensitive” drop down menu to “Ignore Case.”
- Now, when you type any variation of your phrase in any program or document (Word, Scrivener, EndNote, an Email), TextExpander will automatically format it correctly. In my example, typing any of the following strings without quotes, whether italicized or not–“exposition coloniale” (without quotes), “Exposition coloniale,” “Exposition Coloniale” or even something funky like “EXPOsition COlonIale”–will all automatically be replaced with the version I want: “Exposition coloniale.“
Note, however, that TextExpander does not work retroactively. It will not go back and make the formatting consistent on documents you created before you set up the snippet. And, if you change the snippet’s formatting in the future, TextExpander will not go back and alter the earlier instances it corrected. That’s why I highly recommend you take some time at the beginning of each project to identify terms you will be using frequently throughout your large project, decide on consistent capitalization and formatting from the start, and stick with that formatting. If you ever want to change the formatting, you should update the snippet and then use Microsoft Word’s “Advanced Find and Replace” tool.
ProTip: Save Even More Time: Using TextExpander to AutoExpand Phrases You Type Frequently and Keep Formatting and Capitalization Consistent
Taking the time to set up TextExpander in the way described above will already save you so much time and hassle at the copyediting and final formatting stage. But you can also set up TextExpander to automatically type out and format longer phrases (even whole emails, paragraphs, charts, etc.) you type repeatedly.
Example: I want to avoid having to type the whole phrase “Coupé-décalé” and I want it to format it the same way (no italics, capital “c”) every time. Instead, I just want to type a shortcut (“cde”) and have TextExpander do the rest.
- Download and Install TextExpander. (See images above.)
- Click “New Snippet.”
- If you want your final phrase to be italicized (or otherwise formatted specially), switch the “Content” from “Plain Text” to “Formatted Text, Pictures.”
- Type the phrase as you’d like it to appear across all documents going forward, including capitalization, accents, and italics (or other formatting). (In my example, I type “Coupé-décalé.”)
- In “Abbreviation” type the shortcut you’d like to use for this phrase. (In my example, I type “cde”.)
- For phrase expansions, I recommend leaving the “Case Sensitive” field as it is. Note that this means that when you’re typing your abbreviation, you need to type it exactly as you will type it every time in the future. (i.e. In my example, typing “CDE” will not trigger the TextExpander snippet, nor will “Cde”; only “cde” will.)
- Now, try typing your “Abbreviation” anywhere. It should automatically expand the abbreviation into your target phrase in any program as soon as you type the abbreviation’s final letter.
- Note that you will have to remember the abbreviation (or look it up). If you forget them, you can always see them in your TextExpander library next to the phrase.
Free Mac Alternative to TextExpander: System-Wide AutoCorrect
If you have a Mac, you can set up your System Preferences to create shortcuts that will work in most programs (the only exception I’ve found thus far is EndNote) to type out words and phrases you type regularly. While this functionality will allow you to keep capitalization consistent, it does not allow you to ensure consistent formatting (italicized phrases, for example). Here’s how you set it up:
- Go to “System Preferences” > “Keyboard” > “Text.”
- Click the “+” sign at the bottom of the window.
- Type the shortcut in the “Replace” column.
- Type the phrase you’d like the shortcut to expand into in the “With” column. Be sure to set any capitalization you’d like to be consistent. Note that because the autocorrect function only works once you hit the space bar (unlike TextExpander, which replaces once you type the final letter in the defined “Abbreviation”) you need to create a separate entry for plurals and possessives.
- Because this tool works at the level of the operating system (and is tied to your iCloud account), setting these shortcuts will make them work in any program or app on all of your devices signed in to the same iCloud account. This means that your shortcut will be expanded in Word and Scrivener documents, Notes, Email, Calendar, etc.
Setting up Microsoft Word’s AutoCorrect as a Free Alternative to TextExpander
If you are not interested in using TextExpander, do not have a Mac, or have a Mac, but are interested in keeping your capitalization and formatting consistent across all of your documents and you use Microsoft Word as your primary word processor, then you can set up its AutoCorrect function to do similar things as TextExpander. Here’s how to do it:
Example: I want Word to replace any variation I type of the title Blues pour Élise with the proper italics and capitalization. I can either set it up to replace any variation of the title, or create a shortcut (“bpe“).
- Open a new Word document.
- In the new Word document, type the phrase you’d like to make standard, including capitalization and any other formatting (italics, highlighting, etc.)
- Highlight the entire phrase you just typed.
- Under the “Tools” menu, select “AutoCorrect.”
- In the window that appears, you should see your formatted text in the “With” field. Keep the radio button next to “Formatted Text” selected.
- In the “Replace” field, type either the shortcut you’d like it to expand into consistently formatted text (i.e. “bpe”) or the phrase you’d like it to monitor (i.e. “blues pour élise.” Note that capitalization does not matter).
- Now, try typing your shortcut or phrase, and hit space. Word should autocorrect (and autoexpand) your typed text into formatted text.
Note that setting up Microsoft Word’s AutoCorrect in this way means that all Word documents you create will automatically monitor capitalization and formatting, but typing the same shortcut or phrase in another program will not do anything. There is one other major limitation to this approach. Because the trigger for Microsoft Word’s AutoCorrect feature is the space button: copying and pasting the text from somewhere else (Scrivener, an email, or even another Word document) will not trigger the AutoCorrect function. It only works if you type the whole shortcut or phrase from scratch in the document and hit the space bar. If you must copy and paste text, as a last resort, you can put your cursor at the end of any instances of the phrase and hit the space bar, but doing so, in my view, would be more tedious than the “Find and Replace” functionality.
There you have it! Three ways to set up tech tools to help you keep track of formatting and capitalization (and set shortcuts) for phrases you type frequently. I definitely recommend taking some time early on in projects to standardize capitalization and formatting of phrases you will use frequently. Using TextExpander or AutoCorrect to expand shortcuts or snippets into phrases can also save you time typing. Ultimately, taking some time now to set up these tools will pay off exponentially–both as you’re writing and when you reach the final copyediting stages.