Get Your Blah-Blah Out Faster

By Jonathan Plutchok

It’s always words on the menu at the Tool Bar & Grill. Lots and lots of them. For us professional writers, words – and knowing how to string them together – are our stock in trade. So anything that helps us get the blah-blah onto the screen faster and easier is a blessing.


We’re all familiar with Microsoft Word’s™ time- and finger-saving AutoCorrect and AutoText features (or the similar functions of other word processors). AutoText spills out a predefined word or phrase when you type its assigned abbreviation and press a hotkey. AutoCorrect does the same when it recognizes the assigned abbreviation followed by a space or punctuation mark.

PhraseExpress brings that functionality – and much more – to every program you use. How wonderful it is to enjoy autocorrect and autotext in a relic application like FrameMaker. Or if I am writing in HTML for a Web site about celebrity couples of country music, such as Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood, I don’t have to spell out their names more than once. I can just select a phrase, maybe “Tim McGraw and Faith Hill,” and add it to PhraseExpress with a unique abbreviation or hotkey. And I can do the same for “Mutt Lange and Shania Twain” or “Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn.”

PhraseExpress goes far beyond simply throwing text onto the page. You can organize stored phrases into folders. You can assign multiple trigger words or abbreviations to one entry, so if I’m creative enough to type “shouild,” “shold,” and “sohuld,” PhraseExpress corrects them all to “should.” And if one abbreviation applies to multiple phrases, PhraseExpress displays them in a pop-up list for quick selection.

You want more power? You can insert macros in boilerplate phrases that perform a specified action or insert dynamic data every time you invoke the related text. Here’s an example from the phrase library:

PhraseExpress also works in Web forms, instant messengers, and everywhere else. For example, I can spill out my name, address, or phone number with just a few keystrokes when buying things over the Internet. If I’m drafting a letter or a contract, I can insert standard boilerplate paragraphs instantly.

PhraseExpress is free for personal use, and a new version has just been released that supports Vista and well as previous versions of Windows. Professional writers and enterprises should buy the commercial version for $19.95 (or the network version, if you need it) from

Some weeks ago I recommended Smart Type Assistant (25 March 2007), which also does an excellent job providing AutoText- and AutoCorrect-like functionality in all applications. However, Smart Type Assistant does not offer the extensive macro support of Phrase Express, and it costs $19.95 even for personal use. So my vote goes to PhraseExpress.

Important Updates

Lavasoft Ad-Aware is one of the best known and most effective free anti-spyware tools. Its brand-new version, Ad-Aware 2007 Free, is revamped with a new interface and, reportedly, much-improved malware detection and removal capabilities. While you’re downloading it from, read up on the new Plus and Pro versions, which offer even greater functionality.

PKWare SecureZIP earned a glowing review recently in PC Magazine (,1895,2121158,00.asp). I have not had a chance to try it out yet, but it appears to be a great tool both for compressing and extracting files from various kinds of archives, and for ensuring privacy by encrypting your files (it even supports public key encryption). SecureZIP integrates with Outlook to compress and encrypt both attachments and messages. And if you publish utilities, its ability to create a Start menu item and run a command from a self-extracting executable file can serve you as basic program installer. For a limited time, PKWare is offering this well-regarded tool absolutely free, so get yours at and let me know what you think of it.

Blogs for Technical Communicators

Tom Johnson maintains a directory of technical writers’ blogs at (Johnson also writes the interesting “i’d rather be writing” blog at and distributes his podcasts on technical writing at Pay a visit to find out what other technical communicators are thinking.

I’ll be waiting for you again next week, right here at the Tool Bar & Grill, with another helpful review of great software. Please feel free to email your thoughts to