PRODUCT REVIEW: PhraseExpress

Vol. 28 No. 8

Reviewed by

Wells H. Anderson, JD, CIC, puts technology to work for lawyers. Winner of the TechnoLawyer Legal Technology Consultant of the Year Award in 2000, he runs Active Practice LLC. A Time Matters software expert, Anderson presents a free monthly webinar for lawyers and staff. Contact him for answers to becoming more profitable, organized, and secure at 800/575-0007 or info@activepractice.com.

 

PhraseExpress has the potential to improve your productivity on a computer more than any other utility program. Professionals and other office workers generally do not appreciate how much time an excellent text-expansion program can save.

 

Essential Functions

PhraseExpress speeds up your typing by letting you enter abbreviations for words and phrases. For example, you can type “iyh” and PhraseExpress will replace “iyh” with “If you have any questions, please let me know.”

The essential functions of PhraseExpress are:

  1. You type abbreviations that automatically expand, becoming words and phrases.
  2. You type a code or press a hotkey to automatically insert a boilerplate phrase or paragraph.
  3. Your frequently used words, names, phrases, and paragraphs are organized in lists and folders where you can modify and add to them.

These functions save you time and improve your accuracy. The makers of the program have even posted a video showing how a variety of PhraseExpress features work.

 

Compatible with All Your Programs

I have tested PhraseExpress extensively with MS Word, MS Outlook, web browsers, LexisNexis Time Matters, and many, many other programs. It handles them all beautifully—even when the programs undergo an upgrade. That is not true of many other competing text-expansion programs I have tested.

Compatibility is the most important factor in choosing a utility program such as PhraseExpress. You don’t want to invest time in creating a collection of abbreviations only to discover later that they won’t work in one of your programs.

Various software programs have their own text-expansion features. MS Word has AutoCorrect, with its “Replace text as you type” feature. LexisNexis Time Matters practice management software has AutoTXT that does the same thing. But each one is limited to its own program. This is a big limitation.

You don’t want to have to create abbreviations in each of the programs or manage text-expansion features that vary from program to program. You can be much more efficient by turning off the text-expansion features in programs such as MS Word and Time Matters and by using one program, PhraseExpress, to handle all your abbreviations.

 

Investing Time to Save More Time

If you invest time in creating abbreviations to save you time, you want them to work everywhere in your computer. PhraseExpress does that and also allows the people in your office to share a set of common abbreviations by using the network edition of PhraseExpress.

The longer you use PhraseExpress and the more abbreviations you add to your collection, the more valuable it is. I like taking advantage of the feature that automatically expands an abbreviation immediately without requiring that I press a special key. For example, as soon as I type “tcw,” PhraseExpress expands it to say “teleconference with.”

For many of my abbreviations, I add the letter j at the end. The J key is very easy to type—it is directly under the right index finger for both touch typists and two-finger typists. The trailing J’s make the abbreviations unique so that they don’t match strings of letters that appear in regular words.

For example, I couldn’t use “pm” as an abbreviation for “practice management” because the “pm” in words like “development” would expand as soon as I typed “developm”. So I use “pmj” because that string of letters doesn’t occur in regular words. Here are examples of some of my abbreviations:

  • ltj: legal technology
  • pmj: practice management
  • tcw: teleconference with (no “j” needed because tcw doesn’t occur in other words)
  • tyfy: thank you for your (no “j” needed)
  • waj: Wells Anderson
  • 5200j: 5200 Willson Road, Suite 150, Edina, MN 55424

This approach works well for me. There are other styles of working with PhraseExpress that also work well. You can define a key to press after entering an abbreviation in order to expand it. You can tell PhraseExpress to recognize and expand an abbreviation only if a space or punctuation character is typed after the abbreviation’s string of letters. You can also create a folder of your own frequently used abbreviations and assign a hotkey to display the folder. Or you can set up a floating palette with a menu of choices. That feature can be used to create a library of stock paragraphs, contract language, questions, and other reusable text.

 

Reducing Stress

Spelling errors create a special kind of stress. Before you finalize a document or send an e-mail, don’t you sometimes wonder whether you failed to catch all the typos? PhraseExpress can automatically correct spelling errors as you type. You can even import the spelling dictionary from MS Word, including any additions you may have made to it.

Typing can stress your fingers, wrists, arms, and shoulders. The less you have to type, the less wear and tear. Every time you type an abbreviation, such as “addrj” for your address or “sigj” for your signature block, you feel the satisfaction of not having to type out multiple lines of repetitive text.

 

Learning the Basics

PhraseExpress contains many advanced features (more on these below), but the most basic functions of the program require very little training: All you need do to add an abbreviation is select a word or phrase on the screen, press a hotkey (that you have defined), and type the abbreviation. That’s it.

The developers of PhraseExpress have also done an excellent job of presenting both step-by-step instructions and instructional videos on their website. You can access these aids instantly by clicking on Help in the PhraseExpress program.

 

Multiple Clipboards

A multiple-clipboards feature is built into PhraseExpress. Each time you copy or cut some text, it goes into a History list in PhraseExpress. By pressing a hotkey that you assign, you can bring up the History list anywhere else in any program and paste one or more items from the list. This feature is especially useful when composing e-mails to clients or doing any sort of extensive writing. You can draw on multiple sources, including web pages, documents, and e-mails, without having to jump back and forth repeatedly between screens to copy and paste each phrase or paragraph.

 

Document Assembly

The Professional edition of PhraseExpress also includes document assembly functions. You can save formatted MS Word paragraphs and documents; create pop-up, fill-in-the-blank forms that insert names and other text; and use floating phrase menus.

For example, starting in MS Word you select a power of attorney document from the floating phrase menu. A pop-up form would prompt you for the required names and other fill-in text. The resulting text appears immediately in MS Word.

You can also create “phrases” that include graphics and formatted text to insert into MS Word documents.

 

Text Prediction

You can set PhraseExpress to watch what you type and identify phrases that you use frequently. It automatically memorizes them. After you have used the same string of words multiple times, PhraseExpress will prompt you the next time you start to type the same words. It will display the text you typed previously and give you the option to confirm entering the rest of the phrase.

Of all the features in PhraseExpress, text prediction is the only one that I haven’t liked. Perhaps it is a matter of setting the sensitivity. (In the Options, you can set the minimum number of words that you need to repeat in order for PhraseExpress to add them to its Text Prediction collection.)

 

Automation via Programming

For advanced users who like computer programming, PhraseExpress can automate menu sequences in programs that don’t have programmable buttons. For instance, in Adobe Acrobat I often secure a document so that it can be opened and read but not changed (at least not without the password). I have now programmed a macro in PhraseExpress to do this automatically.

 

Pricing

Currently the price of PhraseExpress is $49.95 for the Standard version or $139.95 for the Professional version that includes document assembly features. The network module is included at no extra charge when you buy the network edition of the software. You don’t pay a premium for the network edition; it costs the same per user as the single-user edition. PhraseExpress keeps track of how much time (and money) you save as you use it. Even using a modest hourly dollar value, the program pays for itself easily within a month. You can download a trial version of the software for free (it is limited to personal use).

 

The Value of PhraseExpress

The most basic feature of PhraseExpress, replacing abbreviations with words, delivers the most value. PhraseExpress performs this task instantaneously and with excellent, time-saving refinements. For example, when you type an abbreviation in lowercase, it will expand into a lowercase word; if you capitalize the first letter of the abbreviation, it will expand into a word or phrase with the first letter capitalized. Alternatively, you can make abbreviations case sensitive. These refinements, plus the ability to operate universally in any program on your computer and on your network, make PhraseExpress a joy to use.

I am no longer happy working on a computer without PhraseExpress. It saves so much typing. Whenever I type a long word or a phrase I expect I’ll need to use again, I add it to PhraseExpress. So be forewarned, once you start using PhraseExpress, you, too, may not want to use a computer without it.

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