Ten Reasons Why Every Student Should Use the Free AutoHotkey Windows Tools! AutoHotkey Helps You So Much Academically That You’ll Think You’re Cheating! Plus, It’s Delicious Brain Food and Helps Get You a Job!
Using AutoHotkey should be mandatory for every student from high school on through college! Not merely because learning AutoHotkey invigorates the brain cells (which it does!), but it makes all your Windows tasks so much easier that it seems unsporting. AutoHotkey takes the grunt work out academia making learning fun…almost.
(If you know a student who uses a Windows computer, then do him or her a favor by sending him or her a link to this article. If he or she doesn’t already know about AutoHotkey, he or she will thank you profusely.)
For those unfamiliar with the free open-source scripting language, AutoHotkey offers simple, yet powerful, commands for adding enhancements to any Windows computer. In addition to their simplicity, the little apps work in any Windows program or on any Web page. For a brief overview, see this “Introduction to AutoHotkey: A Review and Guide for Beginners.”
Ten Reasons Students Should Use AutoHotkey
The AutoHotkey Windows scripting language assists scholars in far more ways than the ten listed here, but this represents a good start.
I don’t expect people who are new to AutoHotkey to immediately understand the inner workings of all these techniques—although, the first tricks are incredibly simple. In fact, making AutoHotkey part of your academic life is a journey. Just start at the beginning and take one step at a time. With the simple noobie techniques, you’ll get immediate results. Soon, any investment of time pays great dividends.
Reason One: AutoCorrect on the Fly the Most Commonly Misspelled English Language Words
Hotkeys and Hotstrings put the “Hot” in AutoHotkey. Each technique uses double colons to designate either an action to execute (Hotkey) or an instant text replacement (Hotstring). A Hotkey use one double colon ([Hotkey combination]::[AutoHotkey command]):
In this one-line example, when added to an AutoHotkey script and loaded with the AutoHotkey program running, the Hotkey combination CTRL (^) + ALT (!) + O (pressed simultaneously) loads the http://www.authotkey.com Web page in the default browser on any Windows computer.
For Hotstring text replacement, we use two sets of double colons (::[Hotstring]::[Replacement Text]):
::lol::laugh out loud
When loaded, type “lol” followed by punctuation to instantly get “laugh out loud” in any Windows document or text field. The AutoHotkey AutoCorrect app consists of thousands of these independent Hotstring lines.
I often recommend the AutoCorrect.ahk script before any other AutoHotkey app. My slightly modified version of the AutoCorrect.ahk script originally came from the AutoHotkey Download Web site. While typing in any Windows program or Web editing page, it instantly corrects commonly misspelled English words. See “Add AutoCorrection to All Your Windows PC Programs with AutoHotkey.”
AutoCorrect works through the built-in AutoHotkey Hotstring feature. Following a misspelled word with either punctuation or a space immediately replaces the errant term with the correct word. For example, the code line:
The code line:
At the Free ComputorEdge AutoHotkey Apps page, the file download AutoCorrect.zip contains AutoCorrect.ahk and the compiled version (which runs on any Windows computer without AutoHotkey installed) AutoCorrect.exe. (You can find a discussion of the AutoCorrect.ahk script in the e-book Digging Deeper Into AutoHotkey.)
Note: The AutoHotkey AutoCorrect script is neither spelling nor grammar correction software. In fact, the complications of the grammar correction in English create unique scripting issues. Fortunately, plenty of other programs, such as the free version of Grammarly grammar correction software, do just that.
Reason Two: Write Gender Neutral Essays and Term Papers
With the current state of political correctness on college campuses, it behooves any student—regardless of political leanings—to keep their class submissions as gender neutral as possible. The following short starter script, similar to AutoCorrect.ahk, changes any sexist language while you type into more acceptable terminology. Depending upon the course and instructor, this may turn out to be your most important use of AutoHotkey.
These Hotstrings are by no means a complete list but they represent a good start:
::man*::man ; use * if you really mean man and not person ::men*::men ; use * if you really mean men and not people :b0:woman:: ; prevents woman from becoming woperson :b0:women:: ; prevents women from becoming wopeople ::firemen::fire department ::policemen::police ::mailmen::postal workers ::mailman::postal worker ::postmen::postal workers ::postman::postal worker :?:man::person :?:men::people ::he::he or she ::him::him or her ::his::his or her :c:Miss::Ms :c:Mrs::Ms ::mankind::humankind
The priority of a Hotstring depends upon its placement in the file. The first appearance of a similar Hotstring overrides any following Hotstrings. For example, with the script above loaded, when typing woman, the statement :b0:woman:: with no backspace (option B0) activates first and prevents the :?:man::person Hotstring from firing and yielding the replacement woman→woperson. In another example, “firemen” gets replaced with “fire department” rather than “firepeople”.
Using the question mark ? option between the first set of double colons activates replacements at the end of words. The c option forces matching of capital letters in the activating text. However, the question “Miss me?” produces “Ms me?” (You’ll need to fix that one by hand.) Clicking the left-mouse button or hitting the ESC key prior to activation of the Hotstring cancels its action.
This list of Hotstrings merely offers examples of how you can implement instant gender neutral AutoCorrection into your school work with AutoHotkey. Please feel free to modify this script as necessary to conform to your professor’s standards. He or she will appreciate the effort—even though AutoHotkey makes it effortless.
Reason Three: Insert Funky Foreign Language Characters
This little AutoHotkey Accent app from Skrommel comes in handy if you work with foreign languages or when you want special characters for the few English words which ask for them (e.g. résumé). Since these special characters don’t appear on most keyboards Accents.ahk makes is much easier to add various types of squiggles to your documents. (See image at right. The image is an animated GIF file. Most media will show it in action, but some, such as Amazon Kindle e-books, will not.)
The script makes clever use of the AutoHotkey Input command and an INI data file to make inserting the special characters simple. For example, press the letter “a” key three times to start cycling through the list (å, ä, â, and à) with each press of the key. While this script currently only works with the vowels, with very little effort other letters can be added.
I found that including different characters (e.g. n→ñ) simply requires adding them to the INI file. For example, I added the Spanish ñ by inserting the following as the seventh key:
 key=n 1=ñ 2=n
Bug Report: When running, the Accent app interfered with my loaded Hotstrings. (Go figure.) I believe that the Input command takes over the monitoring of the keyboard. Although the script offers an ingenious use of the Input command, since in its current form Accents.ahk disables other Hotstrings, I’ve added a Suspend option to the script in the System Tray icon right-click menu. I recommend suspending the script whenever you don’t need the alternative accents. In the long run (and for anyone who wants to take on the task), a Hotkey to temporarily activate the routine or a pop-up menu might work better without blocking other active Hotstrings. I’d recommend only loading the Accents.ahk script when you need it.
While the script needs a little work, it’s a good idea which could easily be expanded to other applications.
Reason Four: Instantly Add the Date to Any Document
“Don’t forget to date your papers!”
One Hotstring I use regularly inserts today’s date into any document. I simply type Anow (capital A required). The Hotstring instantly pastes the current date (e.g. January 27, 2017) into any Windows edit field. AutoHotkey only requires four lines of code:
:c*:Anow:: FormatTime, CurrentDateTime,, MMMM d, yyyy SendInput %CurrentDateTime% Return
The ComputorEdge Free AutoHotkey Scripts page offers various techniques for inserting dates—including a pop-up calendar. We updated the MonthCal GUI (Graphical User Interface) script, AddDate.ahk (a demonstration script for adding dates to the current document), to deal with a common AutoHotkey active window error. You’ll find discussions of the Hotkeys included in the book, A Beginner’s Guide to AutoHotkey, plus the two Hotstrings in the AutoHotkey Applications e-book.)
When loaded, the script demonstrates four different methods for adding the date with Hotkey combinations:
- CTRL+WIN+F1 ⇒ The datetime stamp (e.g. 20130628103349)
- CTRL+WIN+F2 ⇒ The date using the FormatTime command (FormatTime, TimeString, %A_NOW%, MMMM d, yyyy)
- CTRL+WIN+F3 ⇒ The date using built-in variables (%A_DDD%, %A_MMM% %A_D%, %A_YYYY%)
- CTRL+WIN+D ⇒ The MonthCal GUI pop-up calendar (Gui, Add, MonthCal, vDayPick)
plus two Hotstrings:
- Anow ⇒ Instantly add today’s date formatted (e.g. September 7, 2013)
- Adate ⇒ Activate MonthCal GUI pop-up
Reason Five: Collect References for Research Papers
The first step in writing any research paper requires digging into references. While the Internet should not act as your only source, it makes a good starting point. Web searches help to identify and validate possible sources—as long as you don’t get caught up in the tautology of parroted Web pages. The most tedious research tasks involve extracting and compiling quotes—along with the reference page addresses. I put together a quick AutoHotkey tool which allows you to copy text and reference data from any source send it to a Notepad window without ever leaving your research work.
This CopyRef.ahk script acts as an AutoHotkey reference collection tool for any research work. Highlight text on any page or in any document and copy to a Notepad collection window with the Hotkey combination CTRL+ALT+C. If not already open, the script launches and displays an “Untitled” Notepad window. Then, whenever executing the Hotkey combination, the app continues to collect the next selected text in the same Notepad window without activating it—even if minimized. This saves the repetitive copy-and-paste routine while switching between windows.
The script inserts the text at the last cursor location in the target window. New lines are added after each copy action. This reference collecting script works with any Windows source which renders text, whether Web pages, word processing documents, e-books in any form (e.g. EPUB, PDF, MOBI), or e-mails.
I wrote this script with students in mind, but, of course, any profession can use it. The CopyRef.ahk script represents a much more robust version of the original SaveText.ahk script used to copy selected text to the AutoHotkey app ScratchPad by Desi Quintans (discussed in Chapter Seventeen of the e-book Digging Deeper into AutoHotkey). In addition to a number of additional protections, the CopyReg.ahk script uses the standard AutoHotkey Clipboard manipulation routine, plus, adds the Control, EditPaste command for greater speed and reliability.
Reason Six: Protect Yourself from Lost Work
Have you ever been working on a clever post or comment when the window suddenly closes, the computer freezes, or you accidentally delete your work? All your brilliant efforts disappear. There’s nothing more frustrating—especially if you’ve completed a significant amount of work.
Blogging sites such as WordPress include regular automatic backup, but most of the time (Facebook and other sites) you’re on your own. Now with AutoHotkey, you can instantly save your work at any time with your own temporary or incremental backup. If something goes wrong or your computer freezes, you recover data with a backup file.
At “Free AutoHotkey Scripts and Apps for Learning Script Writing and Generating Ideas” you’ll find two sample instant backup scripts: BackupText.ahk and IncrementalSaveText.ahk.
The BackupText.ahk script copies selected text to the file SaveEdit.txt located in the user’s Documents folder. With each use of the CTRL+ALT+B Hotkey combination, AutoHotkey selects all the text (CTRL+A) in the document or Web editing field, copies it to the Windows Clipboard, then saves it to the SaveEdit.txt file. Only use this script for quick, temporary backup of current unsaved work. The script overwrites the old file on each Hotkey activation. For incremental backup to text files use the IncrementalSaveText.ahk script which follows.
The IncrementalSaveText.ahk script discussed in Chapter Fifteen of the Digging Deeper Into AutoHotkey e-book saves the text from any window, including Web pages, by selecting the text, copying it to the Windows Clipboard, then saving it in a backup text file with a filename which includes the window’s title plus the current date and time in date/time format (e.g. Hotstrings and Auto-replace (similar to AutoText and AutoCorrect) – Google Chrome20170129121029.txt for the AutoHotkey Hotstrings page). The script saves the file in the user’s Documents/Backup folder. If the Backup folder doesn’t exist, AutoHotkey creates it. Once loaded, CTRL+WIN+ALT+B initiates the script’s backup procedure.
(If you want the backup to occur automatically, then call the routine with the SetTimer command.)
Even if you use an app such as WordPress which automatically backs up your work, you still have a reason to create your own personal backup system. For example, if you accidentally delete a few paragraphs and the auto-save suddenly kicks in, your work may be lost forever. Even the Windows emergency CTRL+Z key combination may not recover it. In those situations, you’ll be thankful for AutoHotkey backup.
Reason Seven: Save Typing Time with Instant Hotkeys
When working on papers certain esoteric topics may call for repeating a tedious word or phrase a number of times. However, you don’t want to permanently add it to your AutoCorrect list. In those situations, you need a script which instantly creates an AutoHotkey Hotkey for inserting the repetitious expression.
The AutoHotkey script InstantHotkey.ahk (discussed in the AutoHotkey Applications e-book) temporarily sets up Hotkey combinations for adding repeated and/or long lines of text to any current Windows document or Web editing field.
Use this handy InstantHotkey.ahk script when you need to insert a particular term or set of terms into a paper numerous times. After loading the script, the Hotkey setup window immediately opens. Enter a new Hotkey combination along with the insertion text. After setting the key combination, you can change it by right-clicking on the icon in the System Tray and selecting Show Hotkey. Hovering over that same icon displays the current Hotkey setting. Use the key combination CTRL+ALT+H to set up as many temporary Instant Hotkeys as you like.
After setting up an Instant Hotkey, every time you need to add the text to a document, simply press the assigned keys simultaneously. For example, in the image above, the pressing of CTRL plus O at the same time inserts the URL:
Reason Eight: Eliminate Student’s Most Commonly Overused Words in Papers
As a pupil, using the same, redundant words over and over again ranks at the top of term paper no-nos. After discovering a list of synonyms for those excessively abused words, I put together a pop-up menu for identifying and replacing them.
The script OverusedWords.ahk monitors the keyboard action, then popping up a menu of replacements for the list of overused words—as determined by English teachers when grading papers. If you regularly use the offending words, this script will drive you crazy as it forces you to pick alternatives. While OverusedWords.ahk primarily targets students, anyone who wants to improve their writing can benefit. (Discussed in Chapter Eleven of Beginning AutoHotkey Hotstrings.)
The OverusedWords.ahk script only contains problem words. If you want synonyms for any term, the following AutoHotkey technique can make Web lookups easier and quicker.
Reason Nine: Quickly Find Even More Synonyms
This short beginning AutoHotkey strip (SynonymLookup.ahk) demonstrates how to use the Windows Clipboard to quickly access reference sites on the Web. In this case, after hitting the Hotkey combination CTRL+ALT+L, Thesaurus.com opens in the default browser using the previously highlighted word as a key for synonyms. The SynonymLookup.ahk script demonstrates a common Web search technique which can be used with any Web page which allows searches from the URL field.
Reason Ten: Improve Your Mind and Get a Job
AutoHotkey as Brain Food
Sharper thinking may be the most important benefit from learning to write AutoHotkey scripts. In a world cluttered with insanity and arbitrariness, developing an understanding of how to write AutoHotkey scripts adds logic and discipline to a sloppy mind. Empowering your computer with AutoHotkey scripts changes the way your think. While you may not learn the answer to “Life, the Universe, and Everything”, you will like the way AutoHotkey improves your mental acuity and eases your computing life. Plus, it’s fun!
Many people think that programming is only for programmers. Not true! The beauty of AutoHotkey is that virtually anyone can learn to write simple one-line Windows enhancing Hotstrings and Hotkeys. If that were the only benefit a student received by using AutoHotkey, it would be plenty. But, as users learn more about AutoHotkey, bit by bit they venture into increasingly powerful tools. These new methods provide extra gains. In fact, even though you may start with simple scripts, the AutoHotkey language offers the depth of potential found in most programming languages—capable of producing full-featured desktop applications. Fortunately, the structure and implementation of AutoHotkey offers an ideal path for learning a little at a time.
Significantly, writing AutoHotkey scripts trains the mind in the analytical methods required in almost every phase of life. It teaches problems solving skills through the implementation of step-by-step logic paths and debugging techniques. The paramount importance of proper evaluation of the If-Then-Else decision model makes the analysis of any problem easier. The techniques for looping through series of alternatives gives users an understanding of the need to test all possibilities. Rather than coming out of school with a mishmash of contradictory thought processes, your mind graduates as a razor-sharp tool.
New Job Credentials
Best of all, if you learn AutoHotkey (regardless of your major), you’ll graduate from school with a skill useful in almost any working environment! As shown in the graphic at the right (Source: Net Market Share), over 90% of the world’s people, businesses, and organizations currently use Windows desktop and laptop computers (and that number shows no sign of decreasing). Yet, most of those computer users are totally unaware of the existence of the free AutoHotkey software. Since these scripts run on virtually all of those Windows computers, the opportunity to add value to a company or organization with profession specific tools offers unlimited opportunity for the AutoHotkey initiated.
If you can use AutoHotkey to make magic with Windows, then your value increases dramatically—much more than people who still wonder how a computer works. You don’t need to be an engineer or programming student to add computer credentials to your résumé. Just start using it. Learning AutoHotkey—even on the simplest level—gives you an edge over any others competing for the same job.