My autocorrect solution to typing formulas and special characters

[autocorrect file updated 4-21-15]

When I was coming up with some of the worksheets for this site and the student site, it occurred to me that I spend an awful lot of time trying to figure out how to type subscripts, superscripts, and other miscellaneous characters.  Though it’s certainly possible to make most of these characters with keyboard shortcuts, it would be a lot nicer to not bother with it at all.  As a result, I’ve started using autocorrect to solve my problems.

An example of how this works:  Let’s say that I want to talk about the heat of reaction, ΔH.  Normally, I’d have to either have a keyboard shortcut for Δ, or I’d have to insert it as a special character.  Both take more time than I’d like, and interrupt my train of thought.  However, I’ve set up an autocorrect entry so that if I type (dH), it will enter ΔH into the document.  Likewise, (methane) gives me CH₄ as does (ch4).  If I want to show the symbol for liquid water, all I have to do is enter (water liquid) or (h2o liquid) to get the formula.  This is much easier when doing a lot of class prep.

To make this easier for you, I’ll post my autocorrect file so you can download it and use it on your own computer.  I’ll include full instructions on how to use it below…


Getting ready:

I have good news and bad news:

  • The bad news is that this autocorrect file probably can’t be used either with your MS Word or Apple Whatever word processors.  Both corporations make endless promises to support these standards, but have backed away when shareholders decided that it would be bad for business.  If this changes, I’ll let you know.
  • The good news is that this autocorrect file can be used with LibreOffice, the open-source office applications I use to make all of the resources on this site.  Speaking as both a professional writer and as a teacher, I can assure you that the LibreOffice suite is just as good as Microsoft Word.  And, best of all, it’s free.

As a result, if you’re going to use this autocorrect file, you’re going to have to use LibreOffice to make your documents.  This isn’t actually as big a deal as it sounds, because it’s free, it loads quickly, and you can save everything in just about any file format you’d like (including, yes, .doc and .docx).  You can find out more about LibreOffice here.

Here’s how to get LibreOffice:

  • From Windows:  Go to this site and follow the instructions.
  • From Mac:  Go to this site and follow the instructions.
  • From Linux:  If you don’t already have it, you can probably go to your package manager to find it.  If not, you can follow the instructions here.
  • From BSD:  Have a look at this for info about LibreOffice and many other programs.

Once installed, it’s time to move to step 2:


Importing the autocorrect file:

First off, you’ll need the file.  Since none of the webhosts I use want to support this filetype, just email me at misterguch@chemfiesta.com and I’ll mail it to you as quick as I can.

Now that you’ve done that, open up LibreOffice and open these menus:  Tools, then Options, then LibreOffice, then Paths.  The big list of stuff you see in that window tells you where your current autocorrect folder is.

From here, you can do one of two things:

  • Hit the “Edit” button and find the autocorrect file you downloaded from here on your computer – this is wherever you saved it after clicking above.  This will make the new autocorrect folder the one you use.
  • Copy the autocorrect file you downloaded above into the folder you see shown in the Paths window.

Both have the same effect, and both give you the power of autocorrect!


How to use it:

Of course, if you don’t know which things will correct what, it doesn’t really help much.  Here are the general rules I have used when making my autocorrects:

  • Every autocorrect consists of something surrounded by parentheses:  (whatever)
  • If you want a formula, type it in parentheses as shown, all lowercase:  (ch4) will give you the formula of methane.
  • If you want a formula and the name of the compound is fairly common, you can probably type the name in parentheses:  (water) will give you the formula of water.
  • If you want to show ΔH, ΔT, ΔS and so forth, type the delta as a lowercase d:  (dH) will give you ΔH.
  • If you want to show a formula and the state of matter, type the state after the formula, all lowercase:  (h2o liquid) will give you the formula of water with a little (l) under it.
  • For hydrates, type the formula followed by how many water molecules are present:  (cuso4 heptahydrate) will give you the formula for copper(II) sulfate heptahydrate.
  • If you type –> (no parentheses needed), you’ll get an arrow
  • (eq) means equilibrium

Basically, it’s what you might expect.  I’ll be updating the autocorrect file on a regular basis, so check back from time-to-time to update yours.  By the way, the file is licensed according to the Mozilla Public License, so feel free to use it, distribute it, or whatever.

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