Many years ago, when I worked for Conrail, I was responsible for a grassroots activist campaign to try to keep the Reagan Administration from breaking up Conrail and selling it in pieces. This was back before Internet or social media tools were available, and so part of that campaign involved writing letters to the editors of various newspapers around the country that had either published editorials supporting the Administration, or op-ed articles by Administration supporters.
The arguments being made were, like those we are seeing now on various issues, the same arguments recycled over and over, and so I found myself drafting essentially the same letter every time, with paragraphs rearranged or swapped in and out depending on the sequence of paragraphs in the offending op-ed.
It was the early days of word processing, and we had a cumbersome, minicomputer-based system developed by IBM, but it had some rudimentary capabilities I came to love. One of these was the ability to store blocks of repetitive text in one document, and by using “subdocument” codes, embed them in a specific sequence in a new document. So it became very easy for me to construct a letter by simply referring to a master library of paragraphs, and just placing the codes for each paragraph in a new document. Then, with one magic command, “expand,” the new letter was assembled and ready for final editing.
For years, I wished I could find a program that would replicate this functionality in the PC environment. I never liked the Microsoft Word subdocument feature, because it always seemed to make changes to the master file of paragraphs, wasting more time than it saved.
Recently, I stumbled upon FastFox Text Expander (http://www.nch.com.au/fastfox/index.html), an add-in program that does exactly what I want. FastFox lets you store snippets of text, including formatting like bold, italic, and fonts, give them a short name, and when you type the short name, FastFox immediately expands that short name into the complete text you stored.
This has been a godsend, particularly with repetitive email messages. I frequently receive emails from people inquiring about sending me news releases for my news reporting assignments. Instead of searching for an appropriate email that I might have sent to someone else, and editing it to fit, I can just type the short name, and FastFox composes the basic email I send for that situation.
When I’m promoting my podcasting book, and I learn of a website that might be interested, or a podcaster who might like to interview me and my co-author, I can just type a few letters and FastFox fills in the email for me.
FastFox optionally will monitor your typing and tell you when something you typed is already stored as a text snippet, suggesting the correct shortcut.
Another way you could use FastFox is for websites. Just load the program with commonly used paragraphs including the HTML code tags you need on multiple pages, and then when you are typing in your web design program, just enter the short name, and FastFox will code faster than your favorite teen.
FastFox is part of a surprisingly useful portfolio of software tools produced by NCH Software, an Australian company. It has a number of image and audio manipulation programs, and several text transcription programs that can even make a rough draft transcription from audio recordings. I use one of the company’s transcription programs with a USB foot switch that I could never get to work with other transcription programs, so they really know what they are doing.
FastFox works on Windows and Apple products, and for USD$39.95, it’s a productivity bargain.
What productivity software tools are you using?
Email firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll share the best suggestions in a future column.