Any time-saving tricks that work in word processors are to be welcomed, and Google Docs recently added a new one, converting three hyphens into em dashes and two hyphens into en dashes automatically for you.
What you might not realize is that you can create your own text shortcuts, substitutions, and autocorrects like this very easily—not just in Google Docs, but in other word processors such as Microsoft Word and Apple Pages too. It can save you a substantial amount of time and effort once you know how.
We’ll cover those three here, but the same feature is available in many alternatives as well. If you dig around in the settings, you’ll find something similar.
If you have your own words or phrases you often misspell and want automatically corrected in Google Docs, you can make your own. These corrections will be applied as you type, so you can use a set combination of letters as shortcuts for something longer, as well, much like a built-in text expander. With a document open on the web, choose Tools, Preferences, and then Substitutions.
Make sure the Automatic Substitution box is checked, then scroll down to see the autocorrections that Google Docs takes care of by default—you can deselect any that you don’t want to be applied. You can also remove substitutions completely using the small x icons on the right of the list.
To create your own autocorrection or replacement, for an em dash or anything else, use the Replace and With boxes. As soon as both fields are filled out, your substitution gets added to the top of the list, where it can be edited or deleted as required. When you’re happy with the way the list is looking, click OK.
Google Docs is now smart enough to replace a lot of common spelling mistakes without you doing anything: You’ll see the replacement word appear with the correct spelling, and a dashed underline to mark the alteration. If Google Docs gets one of these wrong for whatever reason, click on the word and choose Undo.
In Microsoft Word, you can configure autocorrections on Windows by going to File, Options, and Proofing. Here you’ll find a host of different options covering spelling and grammar checking, support for custom dictionaries, readability statistics for your document, and more.