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using google docsFor the majority of my life, Microsoft Word was the word processing tool to use if you were going to do any serious work. Sure, there were alternatives like Corel WordPerfect and later on OpenOffice, but Microsoft Word held a pretty tight grip as leader in that field. Since then, Google Docs shifted all of that into a cloud environment and has been quite successful.

In the future, I truly see using Google Docs is taking over the use of traditional desktop word processors. Google Docs may not be as sophisticated as the latest versions of Word, but given enough time, it’ll get there. I’ve already switched over and I know many of you MUO readers use it regularly as well. If you’re one of them, here are some great tips that you may not have known that will increase your admiration for Google Docs.

Keyboard Shortcuts

using google docs

Most of the time, you can’t really use keyboard shortcuts on webpages because those shortcuts are often intercepted by the browser itself. Try using Ctrl + S (the universal shortcut for Save) and you’ll probably be prompted to save the entire webpage as an HTML file Top 11 HTML Tags Every Blogger & Website Owner Must Know Top 11 HTML Tags Every Blogger & Website Owner Must Know The world wide web knows many languages and is coded in several different ones. The one language however, that can be found all over and has been around since the invention of webpages, is the... Read More . However, Google Docs gets around this (not that it’s very difficult to do) and lets you use shortcuts to make word processing easier.

Here are some of my favorites features of using Google docs that I make use of all the time:

  • Ctrl + Alt + C: Copies the formatting on the currently selected text. Easy to remember because it’s the same shortcut as copying except with Alt.
  • Ctrl + Alt + V: Pastes the latest formatting that you copied. Easy to remember because it’s the same shortcut as pasting except with Alt.
  • Ctrl + \: Clears the formatting on the currently selected text.  Great for removing bolds, underlines, italics, messed up headings and paragraph settings, etc.
  • Tab and Shift + Tab: Obviously, Tab inserts indents. Shift + Tab removes indents. If you have text selected, these apply to the entire selection.
  • Ctrl + Shift + C: Displays the word count stats for the current document. If you have text selected, it will also show stats for the selection only.
  • Ctrl + Alt + Shift + G: Opens the revision history for the document. Not sure what revision history is? I cover it later in this article, so keep reading!

If you want to learn the dozens of other keyboard shortcuts available, check out the full list of Google Docs shortcut commands.

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Drag & Drop

For the longest time, I thought Google Docs was rather primitive. I would get frustrated because I’d have to click on a bunch of menus and buttons in order to upload a single file, then I’d have to do it all again for another file. I’m not sure when drag-and-drop Drag & Drop Your Way To Productivity With These Time-Saver Applications Drag & Drop Your Way To Productivity With These Time-Saver Applications Dragging and dropping your way to productivity isn’t for the real world. But put it on a web interface, and you have the fast track to shaving a few seconds here and there. Drag n’... Read More was introduced to the service, but man, it’s made my life a whole lot easier.

If you want to add a new file (e.g., DOC, DOCX, XLS, etc.) to your Google Docs account, you just need to drag it off your computer and into the browser. It’ll upload automatically. If you want to be able to edit or view it in Google Docs, though, make sure it’s a compatible format.

One-Click New Document

google docs

One big bother with Google Docs is that there’s a lot of overhead that you need to wade through before you can start using it. By that, I mean you need to open your browser, open a new tab, navigate to Google Docs, then click a few links to have a fresh document open before you. Granted, in everyday life, it’d be a lot quicker than how I described it. It’s still annoying, though.

Luckily, there’s a trick you can use that automatically opens up your browser to a fresh new Google Docs document… and you can run it straight from your desktop. Sounds cool, right? Here’s how to set it up:

  • Right click on your desktop, select New then Shortcut.
  • For the location of the link, input this: https://docs.google.com/document/create
  • When it asks for a shortcut name, type Create Google Doc or whatever else you want it to say.

Done! Of course, this requires you to be logged into Google Docs on your default browser (as the link will open up in your default browser). Very easy and very neat. If you want to change the icon of the new shortcut:

  • Right click on the shortcut and select Properties.
  • Click the Web Document tab.
  • Click Change Icon.
  • Select your desired icon.

File Revision History

using google docs

The coolest feature of using Google Docs, in my opinion, is the file revision history. For those of you who don’t have any experience with the revision history feature, here’s the basic gist of it: not only does Google Docs track every single change that you make to your files, it allows you to revert your file back to any past state instantly (as long as Google Docs has a history of that change).

The uses for this are numerous and the impact is insane. Did you erase your entire thesis paper and save by accident? Do you prefer the version of your novel from last month instead? Need to go back to the very beginning of your edits and start afresh? Revision history lets you do that.

Hit the revision history shortcut (Ctrl + Alt + Shift + G) and Google Docs will show you every saved change for that document. It doesn’t get much easier than that.

Instant Translation

The final tip in this article is for those of you who frequently write documents that need to be translated from language to language Instant Translate - The Quickest, Easiest Way To Translate 66 Languages [Chrome] Instant Translate - The Quickest, Easiest Way To Translate 66 Languages [Chrome] Sometimes, in your travels around the Internet, you may encounter a website written in a language you do not understand. If you frequently need to translate text you encounter on the web, than you have... Read More . Now, as with any sort of AI-generated translation, the translating tool in Google Docs is not perfect. As far as I know, it’s the same tool used in Google Translate, which makes sense to me. If you aren’t satisfied with Google Translate, then you may not be satisfied with this.

All you have to do is go to the Tools menu and select Translate Document. This will actually create a new document with the translated text, which is great in case you aren’t happy with the results. You can translate TO and FROM dozens of languages, presumably the ones supported by Google Translate.

Conclusion

Google Docs still has some catching up to do if it wants to be a complete alternative solution to Microsoft Word, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. In fact, it has a number of great features that really showcase its potential going forward. If you want to make the switch now (or already have), then be sure to use these tips to maximize your Google Docs experience.

If you know any other tips, tricks, or cool features, please share them with us in the comments. Anything to make Google Docs better is worth learning in my book.

Image Credit: Keyboard Keys Via Shutterstock

  1. Alfred
    September 25, 2016 at 2:18 am

    Waiting for the pilcrow, so I can watch te spacing between words and paragraphs. Lately I tested a 500+ word-file in Google Docs. Took a while but Google Docs is now able to show a document of 200.000 words. So yes, it becomes better. But why not show a simple pilcrow professional writers need?

    • Joel Lee
      September 29, 2016 at 12:48 am

      Wow, pretty impressive that Google Docs can handle that many words. And yeah, never thought about it before but it's strange that Docs doesn't seem to have paragraph symbols. Weird!

      • Alfred
        September 29, 2016 at 1:52 am

        People are asking for this since 2009, from what I see when I google it. Being able to show the ¶ button is important when dealing with publishers, newspapers, magazines and so forth. I really would like to use Google Docs, since it looks so minimalistic. It should not be that hard for Google to ad the ¶ button. Weird, just like you said.

  2. EG
    August 2, 2016 at 12:04 am

    Google Docs is getting better all the time, much better than when this article was last written, and collaboration is phenomenal. It's easily the best fully cloud based office suite there is-and it's free.
    For normal word processing, I still prefer Word (for the features, offline viewing and speed) but I use google docs in cases where I need to both share and collaborate in the creation of a document.
    Another option is Word Online, which in my experience is best for sharing between people with desktop Word and others without. It isn't quite as good as Google Docs in collaboration, but it can be useful if you're using the features of Desktop Word and you'd still like to share it (also the terabyte of storage on OneDrive)

  3. Lawrence
    February 7, 2015 at 8:50 pm

    T'aint my cup of tea. I can't scroll to bottom of a long document.....can't manipulate text, and photos the way I can in MS Word, and on and on......and can't seem to "Google" a website willing to throw me a life preserver :-(

  4. Leigh
    April 5, 2013 at 12:26 am

    It's a real pity but there are a couple of feature gaps with Google docs compared with MS Word that make it really frustrating to use. For example there is no option to merge cells in tables in Docs. There is also no option it insert a section break and hence no option to change page orientation part way through a Doc (something you may want to do if you have a wide table or image to include). I have also heard reports from colleagues that some larger documents uploaded to Google Drive do not completely upload (ie only the first 100 pages are kept and the rest is just missing). Google has a LOT of work to do if they want to replace the current enterprise word processing space.

    • Joel Lee
      April 6, 2013 at 3:06 pm

      I do agree that Google Docs can be a bit iffy for corporate settings and large projects, but for the everyday man it's quite brilliant. It does have a feature gap (many of the things you described) though, which is a shame.

  5. Dharmendra Dubedi
    April 3, 2013 at 10:34 am

    Really it's fabulous , and It help to work as a team from different computer and other place , good job and We are using its benifit

  6. Marek S?owikowski
    April 3, 2013 at 2:54 am

    These tricks are for one-person-work. I am using Docs in projects to share common documents, edited by everyone involved. It is true power of GD.

    • Joel Lee
      April 6, 2013 at 3:05 pm

      Yeah, Google Docs is great for collaboration. But even if you're working in a group setting, each individual person can apply these tips and tricks for faster workflow. :)

      • Marek S?owikowski
        April 7, 2013 at 3:03 am

        Maybe we should join our knowledge and write something about group work in GD. :-)

  7. BF Wilson
    April 2, 2013 at 1:50 am

    I love Google Docs and tell my students to use it all the time bc of the autosave functions of the program.

  8. Michael Heffner
    March 29, 2013 at 9:07 pm

    After leaving windows for Ubuntu, I found myself using google docs more and more. My wife rarely opens office on her laptop any more.

  9. dragonmouth
    March 28, 2013 at 9:51 pm

    Can Google Docs read/write as many different file formats as Libre/Open Office? Or does it just read/write Microsoft files?

    • Joel Lee
      March 29, 2013 at 8:33 pm

      For documents, Google Docs can export as: DOCX, ODT, RTF, PDF, TXT, and zipped HTML.

      For spreadsheets, Google Docs can export as: XLSX, ODS, PDF, CSV, TXT, and HTML.

      It's not the most versatile but those are the most common formats you'll see so Google Docs can be used in 99% of cases.

  10. Ellen
    March 28, 2013 at 12:56 pm

    How do the shortcuts work on a Mac or do they?

    • Joel Lee
      March 29, 2013 at 8:31 pm

      As I don't have a Mac to test it on, I can't answer you there. Sorry. :(

  11. Pratish Rao
    March 28, 2013 at 6:42 am

    really din know about the revision historry part....

  12. Chris Hoffman
    March 28, 2013 at 4:43 am

    It's a hidden trick, but Ctrl + ; goes to the next spelling suggestion in Docs, allowing you to easily see and go through the typing errors in your document.

  13. AriesWarlock
    March 28, 2013 at 3:34 am

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