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10 Tips and Tricks for Google Docs

google-docs

Google Docs doesn’t have the cluttered ribbon full of features you’ll find in Microsoft Office, but it does have quite a few useful tricks up its sleeve. You may never find these features unless you go looking for them.

Google’s web-based office suite has matured over the years and now offers everything from offline access to third-party add-on support. It’s still an easy-to-use office suite that works everywhere with excellent real-time collaboration features.

Enable Offline Access

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Google Docs can work offline. This allows you to create new documents, continue working on current documents, and even just view your documents while you don’t have an Internet connection. When you connect to the Internet again, your changes will be synchronized online.

This feature requires Google Chrome, so it works on Windows, Linux, Mac OS X, and Chromebooks. To set this up, open the Google Drive website, click the gear button at the top-right corner of the site, and click Settings. On the General pane, ensure the “Sync your work to this computer so that you can edit offline” option is enabled, and click Done. To use Google Docs while offline, just return to the Google Drive website in Chrome when you don’t have an Internet connection.

enable-offline-access-in-google-drive

Collaborate In Real Time

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Google Docs has better collaboration features than the desktop version of Microsoft Office. You can collaborate in real time, and everyone with access to the document will be able to edit it at once. You’ll see other people’s cursors in the document and can watch them type in real-time.

Click File > Share to start sharing the document. You can invite individual people by their email addresses or allow anyone with a special link to the document to edit it.

Sharing isn’t just about editing — the Share feature can allow you to share a document with a one or more people so they can view it. They’ll always have the most recent copy, so this may be more convenient than emailing a file. You can also give people the ability to leave comments on a document so you can get their input without allowing them to modify your document.

collaborate-on-a-document-with-google-docs

Publish a Document

Google Docs allows you to quickly publish a document online. Just click File > Publish to the web and click the Start publishing button . You’ll receive a public link to the document in published form, so you can share it with other people and they can view it. You don’t have to host the document on your own servers somewhere.

This feature is separate from the sharing feature. When a document is published, anyone with the link can view it. When it’s shared, it can be shared only with a handful of people. When people access a shared document, they’ll see the Google Docs editor. When they access a published document, they’ll see the document as a typical web page.

published-google-docs-document

Go to Next Typo / Previous Typo

For quick correction of mistakes, use the Ctrl + ‘ keyboard shortcut to go to the next typo in the current document and Ctrl + ; to go to the previous typo. This allows you to quickly correct typos without scrolling through the current document and looking for those red underlines.

Google Docs also recently gained a Spell Check feature that allows you to quickly skim through the problems in a current document, a feature it lacked for a long time — just click Tools > Spell Check to use it.

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Search For and Insert Links

Google Docs incorporates the power of Google search to help you easily insert links into your current document. Rather than opening a new browser tab and searching for a page you want to link, you can search right from the link dialog. To do this, click the Insert > Link option. Type a search into the dialog and Google will display pages that match your search — click one to create a link to the selected address.

google-docs-search-for-and-insert-a-link

Configure Your Text Styles

Rather than manually formatting every bit of text in your document, you should format your text using styles instead. This means that, rather than setting all your headlines to a certain font size and bold text, you should just click the style box and set them to “Heading 1.”

You can also easily edit the font settings used for different styles. First, format some text to use the type of formatting you want to use for a style. Select that text, click the style box at the top of the screen, and click the arrow to the right of the style you want to modify. Click the “Update ‘Style Name’ to Match” option and that style will now use the type of formatting you selected.

To save these customized styles and use them in other documents, click the Options menu at the bottom of the list here and select “Save as my default styles.”

google-docs-change-text-formatting-styles

Manage Your Personal Dictionary

If Google Docs thinks a word is a typo but you know it’s correct, you can right-click the underlines word and select Add to personal dictionary. You can then click Tools > Personal Dictionary and edit the list of words in your personal dictionary. If you accidentally add an misspelled word to this list, you’ll have to remove it from here before Google warns you about it again.

This option is a fairly recent feature — previously, Google Docs wouldn’t allow you to remove words you added to this list. You may want to give the list a look and ensure you didn’t accidentally add incorrect words to the list in the past.

google-docs-personal-dictionary-remove-words[4]

Copy and Paste With the Web Clipboard

Google Docs has a web clipboard feature it shares across Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides. This clipboard is associated with your Google account, so it will follow you across all the computers you use. Unlike your standard operating system clipboard, the web clipboard can contain multiple items. The clipboard supports, text, images, drawings, and other bits of data from Google documents.

To use this feature, select some text, click Edit, use the Web Clipboard menu. This is the best way to copy some types of data, such as drawings, between different types of Google documents. Items you save to your web clipboard will be cleared after 30 days if you don’t interact with them.

google-docs-web-clipboard[4]

Use the Research Tool

Google Docs contains a sidebar designed for researching — open it by clicking Tools > Research. This sidebar allows you to search for images, quotations, and web results so you can easily insert them into a document. It also makes it easy to search for academic studies and quickly insert the appropriate footnotes or citations for MLA, APA, or Chicago citation formats. You can quickly insert citations to web results, too — it can be an easy way to build a bibliography for a school paper.

google-docs-research-tool

Install Add-ons

Add-ons are a fairly new feature. These are third-party bits of software made with Google Apps Script. You can install them by clicking Tools > Manage Add-ons. They can then be used from the Add-ons menu.

For example, you can install a Thesaurus add-on that allows you to select any word and click Add-ons > Thesaurus > Find Synonyms for Selected Word to view synonyms while writing a document. Other add-ons include an easy bibliography creator, diagraming tool, and table of contents generator.

google-docs-thesaurus-add-on


Google Docs has more tricks up its sleeve, too. The File > Download as menu is particularly useful, allowing you to download your document in many different formats. You can download it as a PDF or a Microsoft Office document if you need to submit or email the document in a specific file format.

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 08/31/14