Over one billion people are using Google Docs, making it one of the most ubiquitously used software products out there.
The last numbers I’ve seen show that over a billion people use Google Drive, which includes file storage as well as applications like Google Sheets and Google Docs. In addition, G Suite, Google’s paid suite of workflow management tools, has over 4 million paying businesses using the products.
As far as workflow and collaboration go, I don’t know a better tool than Google Docs.
It’s got basically all the features of Microsoft Word, and in my opinion, the user experience is leagues better. Plus, you can easily store and share files, as well as collaborate with others and see past versions of your draft.
Whether you’re a student, professor, writer, accountant, marketing automation specialist – whatever your title and place in life – you probably user Google Docs, or at least have a use case for the product.
This piece will be an ultimate guide to getting the most out of Google Docs. It will cover the basics, such as signing up and getting started, and it will move all the way into hacks, add-ons, integrations, shortcuts, and tips for power users. Here’s the table of contents:
- What is Google Docs?
- Google Docs vs. Microsoft Word
- Getting Started with Google Docs
- Sharing and Collaborating with Google Docs
- Google Docs Shortcuts
- Google Docs Add-ons
- Blogging with Google Docs
Let’s jump in!
What is Google Docs?
Google Docs is a collaborative word processor that works on any platform or device and allows version control as well as editorial and styling features.
It’s a completely free web app, and you don’t need to download anything to get started. You can work online or offline. While you’re working online, Google Docs automatically saves your progress, so you never lose a draft (how often has that happened to you while working with Microsoft Word? So frustrating!)
Google Docs, in my opinion, is basically a much better and sleeker version of Microsoft Word (or Word Perfect, which I’m pretty sure people don’t use anymore.)
Google Docs exists as an app within Google Drive, a suite of business applications that include file storage, Google Sheets (a spreadsheet app), and Google Slides (a presentation app)
Google Drive now also includes several other apps, including Google Forms, Google Drawings, and Google Sites
Google Docs vs. Microsoft Word
Microsoft Word is still probably a little bit more widely used, as they’re the entrenched competitor here. Google Docs is the new kid on the block, though obviously a rapidly growing and popular one. What, then, is the real difference between these two programs?
First of all, Microsoft Word costs money. Second, I think Microsoft Office is a pretty bad product. I hate it when writers send their drafts on Microsoft Word. It’s incredibly frustrating, because there are no collaborative capabilities, so I end up just converting these files to Google Docs anyway.
Apart from my personal vitriol to Word, it’s also got to be purchased as part of the Microsoft Office suite, which includes Powerpoint, Outlook, and Excel (which, in a total reversal, is a million times better than Google Sheets – but that’s a rant for another article).
So what’s the benefit of using Microsoft Word over Google Docs?
- Maybe your whole organization uses it so you want to fit in.
- I think it has more robust features, though I haven’t run into any roadblocks with Google Docs.
Just use Google Docs. Why not?
Getting Started with Google Docs: The Basics
This is going to look pretty basic, but let’s do it anyway. Here’s what you have to do to access Google Docs:
1. Get a Google account (if you don’t already have one)
2. Search Google for “Google Docs,” “Google Drive”, or just go to this page
3. Click the CTA
That’ll bring you to your dashboard. Or you can just start out by going to your Google Drive and you’ll have everything in place:
To open a Google Doc there, either click the “New+” button on the upper left side of the screen, or right click in an open area on your dashboard and choose “Google Docs” from the drop down:
Now, you’re in a Google Doc! Staring at the blank page and figuring out what to write is now probably your biggest challenge, but let’s quickly go over some Google Docs features you should know about.
The top toolbar contains pretty much all the formatting and style options you’d need. Here you can change the paragraph styles of your font (if you’re using Wordable, these come in handy for formatting your post correctly to upload to WordPress):
Of course, you’ve got all the fonts you’d want right next to the paragraph style options:
Font size, as well…
One of my favorite features is the document outline functionality. Basically, this shows you an outline on the left hand side bar. It picks up on logical sections by how you use paragraph styles (like title, heading 1, 2 ,3, etc) and bold styling.
Another feature you’ll want to note is how to make an exact copy of your post. I do this from time to time when sharing with others, but when I want to keep my original document in tact for some reason. This option is also great if you’re sharing a “template” that you hope many people will fill out or customize, but you want to keep one master draft that is static:
One last cool feature: publish to the web. Here’s a quick hack: if you want to make your post visible to anyone, even if they aren’t using Google Docs, this is what you want to do. Another interesting this about publishing to the web is you can pull images from the post (you just publish to web and right click > save image as, like you normally would online).
Before using Wordable to upload Google Docs to WordPress (images includes) I used to use this to grab images from guest writers’ documents.
We’ll go much deeper on features later, when we cover Google Docs shortcuts. For now, though, that should give you a great starting point. Now let’s talk about working well with others…
Sharing and Collaborating with Google Docs
One of the greatest features of Google Docs – really, any business app within Google Drive or G Suite – is the ability to easily collaborate with anyone, whether they’re on your team or not.
Of course, there are many reasons for collaboration. If you’re writing a book – or an ebook – you’re going to need an editorial hand. If you’re writing a blog post, there’s also usually a collaborative effort to get your post published.
Even for internal company notes – things like experimentation documentation, memos, and strategic plans – Google Docs is great because you can add suggestions, comments, and edit text, creating a communal document.
But first thing’s first, how do we invite others to view, comment on, or edit our document? Easy, just click the share icon on the upper right hand side of the screen when you’re working in a Google Doc:
This will bring up a modal where you can add the email address of those you’d like to invite for collaboration. You have three options as far as access:
- View (can make no changes or comments)
- Comment (can comment or add suggestions on text)
- Edit (has full editing capabilities)
There’s also the option to “get sharable link.” This allows you to copy a link to your clipboard and share it with whomever you’d like to get access to your document.
This is great if you want to share a public document for view access only, as you can link to your document in something like a blog post, an email blast, or whatever public facing communication where you wouldn’t naturally have all the email addresses at hand of those you’d like to invite.
For example, if click on this link and see what happens.
Basically, I can share any Google Doc (or Google Sheet or Presentation) that I’d like, with any known or anonymous user who has access to that link. Pretty cool!
On the flip side, if you were the one with whom the document was shared, you’ll want to know how to properly collaborate. Depending on your access, you’ll have three options to choose from (which you can access via the button right below “Share” within Google Docs):
The descriptions beneath the options are somewhat straightforward. Editing changes the document directly, and this is what suggesting looks like:
Finally, you can leave comments on a document by right clicking on a snippet of highlighted text and choosing “comment”
Google Docs Shortcuts and Hacks for Power Users
There are some common Google Docs questions. Things like how to do strikethrough on text. It’s simple. Either go to Format > Text > Strikethrough, or just read the keyboard shortcut there (⌘ + Shift + X) and use that on the text you’d like to strikethrough):
The same goes for almost anything you want to do in Google Docs. You can usually find a menu item for it (and the menu isn’t super complex or extensive, so simply fishing around for what you want to do is usually sufficient). After you use the menu option a few times, it might be worth finding and remembering the keyboard shortcut to save you time.
But there’s no sense in memorizing a bunch of keyboard shortcuts unless you use them all the time. Some of those that you’ll probably come across frequently are:
- Center an image or text (Command + Shift + E)
- Bold text (Command + b)
- Italicize text (Command + i)
- Numbered list (Command + Shift + 7)
- Bullet point list (Command + Shift + 8)
Eventually, after you use Google Docs enough, you’ll operate like any good Microsoft Excel power user does: mouseless, for the most part.
But in my opinion, it’s best to only memorize those shortcuts that you actually use frequently, and just print out a list of shortcuts and maybe hang it above your desk as a reference point for the rest. Google themselves have a good support document outlining the different shortcuts.
Google Docs Add-Ons
Another awesome thing about Google Docs, as well as Google Sheets and Presentations, is that you can download and install a number of add-ons that increase the power and capability of the core Google Docs app.
To access the “store” for add-ons, just click the “Add-ons” button on the main menu navigation bar and click “get add-ons.” This will open up a dashboard that looks like this:
Then you have the option, as with most stores, to either browse or search for something specific. We can, for this example, just choose “Lucidchart Diagrams,” which is actually one of my favorite add-ons (as mentioned on my post on blog tools). Clicking that link will bring you to the Lucidchart overview page, where you can read descriptions and documentation, reviews, and see screenshots or videos of the functionality. Just click “+ Free” to install it.
Then once you’ve got it installed, it will appear in your “add-ons” menu in the main navigation bar.
Here are more instructions from Google about installing add-ons, and if you’re hungry for inspiration as to which add-ons are important or useful, Zapier has a well-curated list of the top 32 Google Docs Add-Ons.
Google Docs for Bloggers
We’ve already written a massive post on how bloggers can best use Google Docs, but it bears repeating: Google Docs is a treasure for power bloggers.
First and most obvious, bloggers need to use word processors, and the simpler and better the UX, in my opinion, the more effective the tool. This where I think Google Docs beats Microsoft Word.
Second, and more importantly, bloggers need to collaborate. This is where Google Docs blows past Microsoft Word in my mind, and it’s where Google Docs outperforms other online word processor apps. The collaborative aspects are unmatched.
Beyond the obvious, though, Google Docs also has lots of cool functionalities, like blog post templates (as well as a templates library with many other templates, like client proposals and contracts):
Using Google Docs is easy and has so many use cases that it would surprise me if you didn’t have one. Everyone from students to teachers, interns to CEOs, and everyone in between has a use case for Google Docs.
The basics of Google Docs, the beginner’s stuff like setting up an account and sharing your document, are wildly easy. This is a perk of Google Docs – the UX is great, and things aren’t complicated.
Then as you become a power user, you’ll get more and more out of scripts and add-ons, shortcuts, and more advanced use cases.
But everyone can get something from using Google Docs. I use it for everything, especially for blogging (which, if you use it for blogging, you should definitely check out Wordable).