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Use Text Expanders for More Efficient Grading



If you grade papers (or proofread) frequently, you probably find yourself writing the same comments over and over:

When encountering similar mistakes over dozens of papers, I tend to fall into patterns, using certain phrases and terms to point out and explain problems. After all, there are only so many ways one can indicate that book titles should be italicized, or that “alright” should be “all right.” This often means that I will write a phrase such as “Use a synonym to avoid repetition” in twenty separate papers, which is itself something of a repetitive exercise.</span>

Because I receive, grade, and return papers electronically, I’ve found a method that alleviates some of the tedium of repeating stock phrases over and over. Text expanders are programs that automatically turn small snippets of text (such as “syn1”) to larger phrases (such as “Use a synonym to avoid repetition.”) By loading up a text expander with a library of frequently-used comments, a essay grader can substantially reduce the amount of typing necessary to leave a comment.

Using a text expander to aid in grading has some substantial advantages. Because leaving certain comments becomes easier, one is less tempted to leave cryptic marks (“?” or “!”) or simply underline text to indicate mistakes. While these corrective marks might seem clear to teachers, they are often baffling to students who might not be familiar with the underlying principles to which these marks refer. By freeing up effort usually spent on addressing common mistakes, one often finds it easier to comment on an essay more holistically, responding to the content of the paper rather than focusing exclusively on form.

For my own grading, the free version of the PhraseExpress text expander is more than adequate, although faster and more feature-laden expanders such as Texter also exist. In Windows, after installing PhraseExpress, double click its icon in the system tray to bring it up. Hit File > New > Local phrase file to create a new set of phrases that can be backed up and transferred between computers. Then hit CTRL-N to create a new comment template. Type the full version of the comment in the “Phrase Content” box, then add a shortcut phrase (such as “syn1”) to the Autotext box. Hit OK, and repeat for all your frequently used comments. Remember that the short phrase you enter in Autotext should be something you would only type deliberately, or else you will trigger the text expansion automatically.

Now, as you enter comments in paper, simply type your short Autotext phrase (“syn1”) to automatically generate the longer comment (“Use a synonym to avoid repetition”). I usually add different versions of the same general comment for use within the same paper—“syn2” might fill in as “Use a different word here.” You might also load up your expander with some stock examples—“The boy throws the ball.”—to illuminate concepts such as subject-verb agreement or parallel structure.

Text expanders can also be invaluable if you often switch between email signatures, such as when switching between administrative and faculty roles.