Google Docs is a free, web-based alternative to Microsoft Word. All you need is a Google account, an internet connection, and these tips and tricks.
Microsoft Word may be the most well-known word processor, but Google’s cloud-based Docs is steadily eclipsing Redmond’s venerable software among budget-conscious internet users. Not only is it free, but Google Docs offers seamless sharing options and is accessible on any computer or mobile device with a web connection.
Google’s success prompted Microsoft to offer up internet-based versions of its Office suite, as well as a pared-down, free version of Microsoft Word for the web. And while Google Docs no longer offers unlimited storage for free, 15GB is a lot of Docs. If you’ve swapped Word for Google Docs, read on for a few hidden tricks.
Don’t know where to begin? Check out the included templates. Access them from the main Docs page by hovering over the plus icon on the bottom right and clicking the Choose template icon that appears. Or click File > New > From template inside an existing doc.
Templates are categorized by purpose, and include formatted samples for project proposals, newsletters, several legal documents, job offer letters, resumes, school reports, and more. Others can be made available by installing specific add-ons.
Unlock Offline Editing
The one complication with cloud-based services is accessible when you don’t have an internet connection, but Google Docs supports offline editing. Go to File > Make available offline, and the most recent version of the doc will be viewable and editable when you’re not connected. When a connection is restored, all changes will be automatically synced. Go back to File > Make available offline to disable it at any time.
View Version History
We all like to keep track of changes in a document, especially if it’s one used by multiple people. You need to be able to go back in time if someone deleted something accidentally or you simply changed your mind. This is where Google’s version history comes in.
In your Doc, click the Last edit was X days/hours ago link up top, open File > Version history > See version history, or use the shortcut Ctrl + Alt + Shift + H to see a list of logged changes by date and time. If multiple changes were made on the same day or in a short amount of time, these versions are grouped as sub-entries under one entry.
For clarity, versions can be given specific names. Click the switch in the top-right corner to show the versions of the document that you have named.
Create a Table of Contents
Table of contents with page numbers
For lengthy documents that would benefit from some organization, go to Insert > Table of Contents and select one of two formats (with page number or with blue links).
Docs will look for text that’s styled as a heading and organize it at the top of the page, with links that allow you to jump to that section. How do you style as a heading? Highlight your text, click into the Styles box, and select Heading 1, Heading 2, Heading 3, and so on. (Or go to Format > Paragraph styles.)
If you create headings after dropping the TOC box into your Doc, click the circular Update icon next to your TOC for the changes to take effect. You can also view the TOC on the side panel.
Google From Docs
Google Docs makes it easy to do research from one window. If you need to find a Google Drive file or info from the web, click the Explore button (the one that looks like a box with a diamond inside) in the bottom-right corner of the document.
This will open a new panel with a search bar, where you search the web or your existing docs. The latter is labeled Cloud Search on Workplace business accounts and Drive on personal accounts. On Workplace, hover over the entry and click the plus icon to add a link to the document or insert an image. To add a citation from a web search to your document, hover over it and click the quote-mark icon.
Share a Link
To share a document, click the blue Share button on the top right and enter the email addresses of any recipients. To send a direct link to the doc, click Copy link to grab the shareable link, but only those added to the Share list will be able to open it.
Change permissions by clicking Share > Change to anyone with the link, which lets anyone with the URL see the doc, even if you didn’t specifically enter their email address. Then specify if those people are viewers, commenters, or editors. To lock it down later, change it to Restricted.
Once all decisions are made, click Copy link from this page to grab the shareable link.
Add New Fonts
Google Docs supports over 30 fonts in the font drop-down toolbar, but there are more hiding in plain sight. Click into the font menu and select More fonts at the top. This will open a menu of other fonts that must be added to Docs before they can be used.
Click the Show: All fonts menu and select Display to preview the fonts. Click on a font to add it to the list of active fonts under My fonts. Click OK to save the new fonts to your active list.
Insert Special Characters
There are a few ways to enter special characters in Google Docs. Open Insert > Special characters for a database full of objects you can insert, including symbols, emoji, punctuations, characters, and accent marks not easily made with a standard keyboard. Know what you need but don’t know what it’s called? Draw it and Google Docs will give you the results.
An easier way to do this may be through the Substitutions menu, where you can type one thing, and Google Docs will display something else. Go to Tools > Preferences > Substitutions and you can add characters into the Replace column that will be replaced by the character in the “With” column, like when you write (c) to create a © symbol.
The only drawback is that the Substitutions screen doesn’t let you directly select a special character, but at least you can add one to the document and copy it over. For example, if you want to easily create a Ĉ, you can create a substitution where writing “c^” turns into the character you need.
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