Word-processing for students has long been the domain of Microsoft Word. The recent release of add-ons is making Google Docs an appealing free option. The five add-ons we are about to meet have the potential to become quick favorites for people working on research papers, essays, and collaborative projects. But, are they good enough to make Google Docs the go-to option?
Google Docs won’t be toppling Word from the top of the heavy-duty text-editing list anytime soon, but add-ons like these will help keep it in the list of best alternatives to Office. It will make it more attractive for those who want to keep all of their work in the cloud.
While Docs add-ons aren’t yet living up to their full potential, these five show promise and, with a few rounds of updates, could become indispensable tools for students.
Document Navigation: Table of Contents
If you’re working on a really long document, like a thesis, it can be hard to find the exact section or paragraph that you’re looking for during editing. The Table of Contents add-on automatically generates a table of contents from the headings in your document and displays it in the sidebar. By clicking on each heading, you can quickly jump to that section.
To insert a table of contents into your document, just click on the top of the first page, click on “Insert,” select “Table of Contents” and you’ll get exactly what you asked for. The inserted table of contents isn’t a very nice one — it isn’t editable, and lacks page numbers — but if you just need something basic, it’ll work.
Adding Charts: Charts
Research papers and essays often need charts, and creating, saving, and uploading them can be a pain. The aptly named Charts add-on makes this much easier by allowing you to add charts from a Google spreadsheet. Just select the sheet your data is saved in, choose the data range, and insert it!
There are few options for customizing your chart, and the display isn’t exciting. It can sometimes be difficult to format and select the data in a way that gets you the chart you’re expecting. With a little practice, though, it becomes easier and could save you a few minutes of working with Excel.
Collaboration: Track Changes
One of the best parts of using Google Docs is that you can easily work with others by giving them access to your documents. Before Track Changes came along, you’d only know if someone edited something, and not what they had changed, unless you agreed to insert text in a specific color.
Now, changes made by all users are highlighted in the document and displayed in the sidebar, where they can be accepted or rejected. The app seems to update itself sluggishly, with updates taking a few seconds to get highlighted and placed in the sidebar. It doesn’t slow down editing, though, so it’s still a good tool for managing collaborative writing.
Editing: Consistency Checker
While this doesn’t provide the versatility of a style-checking app like Expresso, it does help make sure that you stay consistent throughout your document. After scanning your document, the add-on will bring to your attention any instances where you haven’t hyphenated or spelled words in the same way, written out numbers in the same format, used different abbreviations, or where you’ve made any common typos.
It’s not a groundbreaking tool, but it can save you some time in editing by picking out all the times you wrote “four” instead of “4″ or “email” instead of “e-mail.” I find it especially useful as an American living in the UK, as my spelling goes back and forth between American and British — Consistency Checker makes it easy to ensure that I stick with one style or the other.
Bibliography Creation: EasyBib
I know I’m not the only one who dislikes writing and formatting bibliographies. There are a lot of different solutions for managing references and creating works cited lists, but EasyBib is currently the only one that’s integrated into Google Docs. The add-on lets you quickly search for books and journal articles by entering the title, ISBN, or DOI, and websites via URL.
Each of the references that you add to your document is stored in a sidebar list, and you can insert your bibliography in MLA, APA, or Chicago format with a single click. This is about as simple bibliography creation can get. Unfortunately, EasyBib doesn’t provide support for parenthetical citations, so you’re going to have to do those yourself.
As it stands, Google Docs still falls a bit short on versatility and power when you compare it to Microsoft Word, even if you know the best Google Docs tricks. But Microsoft Office is expensive, and isn’t likely to get cheaper anytime soon. It looks like Google is making a run for the word-processing crown, and this is a great first step.
One worrying thing that I noticed about these add-ons, however, is that some developers might be using them as ads. For example, Consistency Checker is a lightweight version of PerfectIt, a type of proofreading software, and you’re confronted with links to a free trial of PerfectIt when you use the add-on. EasyBib also pimps their pro version. Let’s hope this doesn’t become a trend.
We certainly haven’t seen the best of what Google Docs add-ons can offer, and these five show that developers are working hard to bring high-quality extensions to the service. I’m hopeful that more detailed tables of contents, more expansive chart managers, and more comprehensive bibliography creation tools are on the horizon!
What other add-ons would you like to see? Are there any add-ons that would make you more likely to switch from traditional desktop software to Google Docs?