AutoHotkey for translators and lawyers

Confession time: I’m a bit of tech geek. I love to try out new tools, some of which I keep and some I don’t. It started with a CAT tool (SDL Trados), which I now couldn’t see myself working without. IntelliWebSearch was a keeper too: being able to simultaneously search a myriad of online resources at a click of a button completely changed the way I work. Voice recognition software, however, didn’t always fit with my everyday routine and types of texts. So what about a tool to create my own shortcuts and automate a few tiresome tasks?

Coding seemed to me an impossible task. But AutoHotkey (AHK) can genuinely be rather simple. Let’s start with the basics. First you need to write the code, known as a ‘script’. You will then need to activate that script either by typing a set of letters (‘hotstring’) and then entering closing punctuation (.?!, space or enter). Alternatively you can activate the script by using a newly defined shortcut key (‘hotkey’). You choose the hotstring or hotkey so you can really adapt your computer in a variety of ways.

For example, when I type @@ and then press the spacebar, the script will enter my email address. Not only does it save time typing, but I’ll never misspell my email address again. Here’s the script:
::@@:: richard@contractually-speaking.co.uk.

Getting started

AutoHotkey is a free tool and will work in any Windows program (such as your browser, Word, a CAT tool, etc.). Go to www.autohotkey.com to download the program. You will then be able to create and run a .ahk file. AutoHotkey files can be edited in a simple Notepad program. The AHK website has an active forum and excellent Beginner Tutorial. But there is also a nice forum to find and discuss macros to be used in SDL Trados Studio such as to toggle Track Changes on and off, or to perform more complex tasks. You can access the forum here: http://xl8.link/1j0

Multiple functions

So what else can you use AHK for? There are an unlimited number of ways it can be used, but one of my favourites is to store template emails. For example, I often get contacted through the ITI directory about certified translations and need to send a standard response stating my rates, how long it will take, and what the letter of certification will contain. This message can easily be stored in AHK and re-used. On other occasions, I might be in a rush and want to tell clients that I am unavailable this week so I have a similar stock message on hand. Once you’ve stored these messages, you can quickly re-use them or adapt them as needed.

Shortcut keys can also be very useful. My keyboard doesn’t have a ‘ñ’ key, so I created a shortcut where it would be on a Spanish keyboard (Alt Gr and the semi colon). Likewise, the French ‘ç’ or ‘ö’ are also assigned a similar shortcut. I have shortcuts for terms I use on hard copy translations such as [Redacted] or [Signature] and instead these are assigned hotstrings such as ‘rrr’ or ‘sss’. When you have to type these hundreds of times, it can be a real saver to have AutoHotkey take care of it for you.

Navigating through my computer without having to resort to the mouse can also be a time saver. At the simple click of two keys I can open commonly used folders such as my downloads folder or my monthly work folder. This also works for specific files such as an Excel containing accounts or invoice template. In Word, I created a shortcut to read back my current paragraph to me in Word. The list goes on and there are many more possibilities that I’d like to explore. What started with a fun experiment has become an essential tool in my productivity arsenal.

A word of caution though. Do be careful of AHK scripts you find on the internet as they have the potential do anything assigned (even in an extreme case to wipe your hard drive!). Make sure you understand the code before running any scripts.

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