In 2005, a four-person company called Upstartle launched Writely(Opens in a new window), an online-only word processor that took advantage of a then-new browser technology called AJAX. Writely let you create, save, and retrieve documents in your browser that were stored on a server. It worked so well that Google bought Upstartle less than a year later.
At the time, that acquisition was considered a gamble. Today, online web apps are the norm. Google’s office suite now includes not just Docs (a grown-up version of Writely), but also Sheets (a spreadsheet), Slides (for presentations), Drawing, and Forms. They’re all so good that they drove Microsoft to create online versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint to work with its OneDrive storage/sync service.
The best part is that anyone with a Google account can access the office suite for free. Paid business users get a version that’s nearly as powerful and flexible as Microsoft 365 called Google Workspace. It includes better integration with Gmail, Calendar, Chat, Meet, and more for $6 per month per user, though nonprofits and schools can get it free. And it all works comprehensively with Google Drive, the online repository for your files, which can also be used to sync data between computers and other devices.
You may use Docs, Sheets, Slides, or Workspace all day and get by fine—in fact, it’s entirely likely. But it pays dividends to know more than just the basics. We’ve already listed eight simple ways to help make the switch from Microsoft Word to Google Docs, including how to do offline editing and using templates. Here, we go further in-depth with all the tools to show you how to get the most out of Google’s office suite.
1. View Docs Without Pages
The default view of a Google Doc shows you what the document would look like if you print it out on paper. It’s the same WYSIWYG view that word processors have displayed for decades. But how often do you really print a Google Doc? If the answer is “almost never,” then switch it up. Go to File > Page Setup and click from Pages (with all the settings for margins, orientation, paper size, etc.) to Pageless. The page breaks disappear and the view switches to a full-screen-width, continuous look—all the better for viewing images, tables, and more in your Google Doc.
2. Watch for Purple Lines
Google builds new smarts into Google Docs all the time. The latest is that in addition to underlining misspellings in red and poor grammar in blue, it will underline in purple to suggest better words, and help you avoid passive voice, make phrases concise, and use inclusive language.
3. Mark Pages With Markdown
If you select Automatically Detect Markdown under Tools > Preferences, it lets you use Markdown syntax. What’s that, you ask? It’s a lightweight set of codes you can use to apply formatting without using the mouse. So you’d type bold to actually get bold, or use one * to start a bulleted list, among other shortcuts. (Read more about Markdown here.)
4. Go Full Screen—Twice
Need some distraction-free writing time? Select View > Full Screen to get rid of Google Docs’ menus and toolbars at the top (hit the Esc key to get them back). If you just want to hide the menu bar, click the up-pointing caret (^) to the far right of the main menu of your Doc or Sheet.
Take it further: Hit F11 (or Fn+F11 on some keyboards) to expand your browser view to full-screen mode to hide all the menus, title bars, and other clutter. In Chrome, you can go to the three-dot Chrome menu and click the square icon next to Zoom. That’s a lot of distraction-free space! Tap F11 again for them to return.
5. Collaborate With Friends
Up to 100 people can work simultaneously on a Google Doc, Sheet, or Slide. It doesn’t matter if you’re all on separate laptops, tablets, or smartphones. To edit or comment, though, they need editing privileges; otherwise, collaborators can only view the file.
To keep tabs on what your friends, family, and/or colleagues have changed, view the revision history via File > Version History > See Version History. A list on the right side will show you who updated the doc and when; click a name to see what they did. Give different names to different versions to make them easier to track—click the button at the upper right to view just the named versions. You can even restore a Doc or Sheet to a previous version. For a complete rundown, read How to Work with Revision History in Google Docs.
6. Use Suggestions to Track Changes
What if you want the revisions to look similar to tracked changes in a Microsoft Word document? Google Docs supports a feature called Suggest Edits. Click the Editing button (with the pencil icon) at the upper right. You’ll get a menu for Editing, Suggesting (with visible tracked changes you or others can accept or reject later), or Viewing the final doc. It’s not exactly the same as Word, but it’s as close as you can get. For more, read How to Track Changes in Google Docs.
7. Find Lost Shared Docs or Sheets
If you can’t remember the name of the document you want, but you can remember who shared it with you, click Shared With Me in the left menu of Google Drive. You’ll get a list of all the documents people have shared with you. If the list is too long to parse, type the collaborator’s name in the search field at the top.
8. Publish and Embed a File
If you want to share your Google Doc with more than 100 people, the easiest thing is publish it so it gets a URL you can share. Go to File > Share > Publish to the Web. If it’s a Sheet, you can select individual tabs or the entire spreadsheet; the same with the slides in a presentation. Google makes a copy of the file and puts it online, creating a link for you to copy and share.
You can also embed a Google file into your own website with the code provided. This works particularly well with Google Forms, though publishing might be limited by your admin if you have a Google Workspace account. You can check a box so that if changes are made to the doc, they will republish to display online. (To put an end to that, select Stop Publishing.)
9. Set Sharing Levels
When you share documents, you might think everyone is equal. Not so. There are four levels of document access, which you set for people when you share a document. Owners can do anything to the file—even delete it—and invite more collaborators. Editors can of course edit, but only invite more collaborators if the Owner allows it. Viewers get to see what’s going on. Commenters can see it, plus leave comments on it. Viewers and Commenters can make copies of documents, so don’t think of these docs as “secure.”
10. Change of Ownership
Sometimes you own a Google Doc/Sheet/Slide that you need to transfer to someone else. Perhaps you’re leaving a company, for example. You can only do a Transfer Ownership move to someone you’ve already shared with. Click the blue Share button and in the list of “People with access,” find the name of your selected new owner, and click the menu next to the name. You’ll see Viewer, Commenter, Editor, Add Expiration (if you’re using Google Workspace), Transfer ownership, and Remove Access as options.
11. Chat While Editing
Google Docs shows your fellow document collaborators in the upper-right corner. You can leave in-line comments or questions for specific people as you work, but you can also send them an instant message. Click the chat bubble next to the collaborator chat heads and type your message. This is not a private message, however. Everyone else in the doc can see your discussion.
12. Add Some Add-Ons
A slew of add-ons can expand the functionality you already get for free in Docs and Sheets. Find or activate them by clicking Extensions > Add-ons > Get add-ons inside a document. If you install one, expect an email from Google verifying that the add-on was granted access to your account. (If you use Google Workspace, your access may be limited by account administrators.)
13. Know Your Mobile Apps
Google offers separate mobile apps for Docs (iOS(Opens in a new window), Android(Opens in a new window)), Sheets (iOS(Opens in a new window), Android(Opens in a new window)), and Slides (iOS(Opens in a new window), Android(Opens in a new window)). The Drive app(Opens in a new window) lives on to provide access and viewing of stored files; when you need to edit, it’ll shunt you over to one of the other apps, if installed.
14. Talk Up a Doc
You can use Google Docs’ built-in speech-to-text “voice-typing” to dictate text in a Doc. It also supports voice commands, so you can do things such as start a new section by saying “new line” or “new paragraph.” You can even edit and format as you go, or move around the document by saying “Go to” and then end/start/next for paragraph/line/document—the combos are endless(Opens in a new window).
You need to have a working microphone, of course. Click Tools > Voice Typing (or Ctrl+Shift+S). When you see the red microphone icon, start talking; tap the icon or say “stop listening” to pause. Voice typing also works in Slides for your speaker notes, and it works in a huge number of languages(Opens in a new window). It will, however, censor curses with asterisks—you’ll need to retype that **** later. For all the details, read Rest Your Fingers, Try Google Docs Voice Typing.
15. ‘Convert’ to Docs
You can store any file to Google Drive, but if it’s a file made with a different product, such as Microsoft Word, how do you work with them after they’re uploaded? Converting a file to Google Docs, Sheets, or Slides format is invisible these days. Upload the file and Google will default to opening compatible Microsoft files in editing mode, unless they’re password-protected. No actual conversion step is necessary.
The Office Editing for Docs, Sheets & Slides(Opens in a new window) Chrome extension lets you edit any Office docs from Word, Excel, or PowerPoint that you drag into the Chrome browser. When you’re done, you can always go to File > Download to save files back in their original Microsoft format.
16. Compare Your Docs
Got a couple Google Docs that are similar, but not quite identical, and you can’t see the difference? Go into one of the docs you want to check, and select Tools > Compare documents. In the dialog box that appears, select the second document. The comparison will come up as a new document named “Comparison of [doc 1] & [doc 2]” and display the differences via suggested edits.
17. Make Some Links
It’s easy to insert a link in a Google Doc: Select the text, click the chain icon or hit Ctrl-K, and a dialog pops up where you can paste the URL. But if you don’t already have a URL for the link, Google will suggest some other Docs to link to, or find a web page for you, since Google search is integrated. It will search the term you’ve highlighted and show results in the dialog box at the bottom. If you find a link you like, click it to insert it instantly.
18. Keep Your Hands Off the Mouse
Keyboard shortcuts are great, but how do you find them? No matter what Google web app you’re in, type Ctrl+/ and the shortcut menu will reveal every keyboard option available. Sadly, you can’t change any of the preset keystrokes.
19. Translate On the Fly
Got a document in a foreign language? Upload it to Google Drive, open it as a Google Doc, and click Tools > Translate Document. You’ll get a duplicate doc in the new preferred language. If you only want to translate part of the document, get the Docs Paragraph Translate(Opens in a new window) Add-on.
20. Protect Your Spreadsheet
You can protect a worksheet inside a Google Sheet via Data > Protect Sheets and Ranges. Select who has access, who can edit, or opt to display a warning if someone tries to edit. Even more granular and useful is the ability to protect discrete sections of data inside a worksheet. Select what you want to protect so that no one but you or your chosen few can touch it, go to Data > Protect Sheets and Ranges, and confirm the range of cells. If you’ve already protected part of the worksheet, you may have to click on + Add a sheet or range.
21. Face Font
If you feel the font choices in Google Docs limit your creativity, add some more. In the Font box on the toolbar, the top choice is More Fonts. The dialog box that comes up lets you show fonts by type, such as handwriting, monospace, serif, or sans-serif. You can then sort by popularity or date added or trending, or just search for a specific typeface name. Then put a check next to any font you want fast access to from the Doc itself.
Fonts aren’t document-specific—if you pick a new one, it’s then available on all your Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides. All of Google’s fonts can be seen at fonts.google.com(Opens in a new window), but not all are available to use in Google Docs/Slides. A better way to view all the fonts is to use the Extensis Fonts add-on(Opens in a new window).
22. Dig Into Definitions
Right-click a word and select Define (or press Ctrl+Shift+Y) to get the Dictionary. The info comes from Google, but usually includes synonyms you can click on to define similar terms, thesaurus-style. (Get the Power Thesaurus(Opens in a new window) add-on if you really like looking up new word options).
So you’ve left a highly actionable comment on your Doc/Sheet/Slide and want someone to pay attention to it, stat. You can get it to the right person fast—even if you haven’t shared the source file with them yet. Just type an @ or + in the comment and you’ll get a list of your most frequent collaborators’ email addresses. If the right person isn’t listed, just type their email. Click the “Assign to…” box to make it explicit. The comment will go to their inbox directly. If you didn’t previously share with the person, you’ll be asked to do so before the comment is sent.
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24. Explore the Panes
When you’ve got a head of steam on a project and limited screen real estate, the last thing you want to do is leave the page to do a search. The Explore pane gets around that. You can access it via the icon at the lower right that looks like a diamond in a square box (it may be obscured if you have certain Chrome extensions running, like Grammarly), or hit Ctrl+Alt+Shift+I. It brings up a pane of info on the right of the document, which you can click into for further research.
Whatever you find, even images, you can easily insert into your document. If you’re inserting a link to the web, click the quotation mark icon that comes up and it’ll even stick in a source citation footnote at bottom of the page (or bottom of the document if you’re using the Pageless view).
25. Insert Charts Into Docs
The Insert menu on Docs lets you place all sorts of items into your documents, such as special characters, tables, drawings, and images. And it’s easy to make charts in Google Sheets—you use the Insert menu there to make one based on data you create. Once it’s done, go back to Docs, then use Insert > Charts > From Sheets to incorporate that same chart. Simply find the Sheet with the chart (or charts) and it’ll let you select the one you want.
26. Drop-Down Creation Made Easy
Google incorporates “chips” in Docs and Sheets to add some additional collaborative functionality. Over in Docs, for example, you can use Insert > Dropdown to put in drop-down chips, which create a menu that can be used in a document to indicate the status or get feedback. A couple of defaults cover “project status” and “review status,” but you can make your own Dropdown.
If you want a drop-down menu in Sheets—so the data is validated to only contain items from the pre-set list—it’s a little different. Click a cell for the menu, click Data > Data Validation, pick a range of cells or enter items separated by commas (no spaces), and the cell is a menu. Copy that cell to others as needed so the menu works in multiple spots.
27. A Full Bag of Chips
For Google Docs and Sheets, “smart chips” is more than making some menus. Google is using the metaphor for almost any extra data you can insert into a document or spreadsheet. On any new line in a Doc, type @ and you’re presented with a menu full of options from people in your contacts, to calendar entries, to “building blocks” for taking meeting notes or composing draft emails (which you can easily shunt over to Gmail when complete). That @ is essentially a shortcut to the more business-y contents of the Insert menu.
28. Sparkline Your Data
Got a column or row of numbers that deserves a quick trendline? Go to a cell and type =(SPARKLINE and it’ll ask for a range of cells. Select them, hit enter, and you’ve got an instant quick graph of the highs and lows over time.
29. Learn Formulas on the Fly
When you type the equal sign into a cell in a Google Sheet, you’re starting a formula that could calculate almost anything. But learning the different types of formulas isn’t easy, especially if you’re new to spreadsheets. Sheets makes it easier; it puts a summary of what a formula does in the drop-down menu, plus shows what the attributes of the formula should be and where they should come from. If you don’t see it, click the ? icon next to the field to run on Formula Help.
30. Send Forms to Sheets
Using Google Forms is a good way to get some basic information from a group. But where do you store it? Well, Forms holds it all, but you can send it to Sheets. On forms.google.com, click the Responses tab for the form in question. You’ll see the green square Sheets icon; give it a click, and you’ll get the option to put the responses into a new or existing Sheet, which will open with all the data when you click. Future responses will continue to filter into the sheet in the future until you go back into Responses and use the three-dot menu to unlink the form.
31. Mask a Slide Image
If you’re creating great slides for a presentation, you’re using graphics. Spice up the images by masking them, which means giving them a shape other than a rectangle. Click an image, then click the drop-down arrow next to the Crop icon to see Mask Image. The menu includes not only shapes but also pointy-arrow callouts like word balloons, and even equation symbols (make the image into a plus sign). Undo whenever a mask doesn’t seem right and keep trying.
32. Link Between Slides
Usually, you go through a presentation one slide at a time. But a slide may reference multiple things, and it’s handy to jump to those things—especially with Google Slides, since you may be sharing with people instead of actually presenting it to them.
So put a link in the slide to click on. Hit Ctrl+K when you select the appropriate image or text, click in the Link box, and you’ll get a list of all the slides in the presentation. If you click Find More, you can find links to sites and images on the web that you can link to directly as well.
For yourself, the Bookmark function may be all you need. You can also bookmark selected text. It’ll help you jump to specific spots in the preso without a tone of scrolling.
33. Make a Slide Master
If your presentation is more than 10 slides long, make a Master slide, which is a template used by all the slides in your presentation. One change to the Master (via Slide > Edit Master) means it appears on every slide. It’s great for adding a logo, color scheme, or bit of clickable text to all slides, so they can easily be changed later.
34. Try Presenter View
As noted above, you may not be in the same room with the people taking in your Slides presentation, especially these days. To share with multiple people at once, go to Present > Presenter View. You can even get it to show your speaker notes, if they’re appropriate. Click Audience Tools and Start New to get a link that you can send to your audience. They can take in the presentation at their own pace—but they can also send you questions that you can address in real-time as they come in.
35. Make Your Slide Sing (or Talk)
Importing audio to do the talking for you is a staple of many presentation programs, but Google Slides does it differently than most. That’s because the file has to be in your Google Drive storage to be easily embedded. The Insert > Audio command makes it easy to find the audio files in Drive, or to find audio that has been shared with you. (The files are usually in MP3 or WAV format, and can also be the audio portion of an MP4.) Once the audio is on the slide, the presenter or viewer can click it to play the audio.
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