What Is Google Docs and How to Use It
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Google Docs is the word processor component of Google’s online office suite. It’s a free alternative to Microsoft Word. It also has more features than you might realize.

In this article, we’ll answer the most commonly asked questions about Google Docs.

What Is Google Docs?

Google Docs is Google’s browser-based word processor. You can create, edit, and share documents online and access them from any computer with an internet connection.

What sets Google Docs apart from its main desktop competitor, Microsoft Word, are its collaborative features. Google Docs was one of the first word processors to offer shared online document editing.

Google has made it incredibly easy to share documents across platforms and work on them together in real time from a browser window. Your collaborators don’t even need a Google account to view or edit Google documents you share with them.

How to Use Google Docs

You can use Google Docs just like you would use Word documents. Create new documents, use Google Docs templates, share documents with your team and collaborate in real time. We’ll show you the basics here.

How to Create a Google Doc

Create a Google Doc

To make a new Google Doc, first head to docs.google.com and sign in with your Google account. Once you’re on the Google Docs start page, you can create a blank new document or choose a template. From within an existing Google Doc, you can also go to File > New > Document or File > New > From template to do the same.

How to Save a Google Doc

You will never have to remember to save a Google document because Google automatically saves your documents to your Google Drive, the online storage component The Only Google Drive Guide You'll Ever Need to Read The Only Google Drive Guide You'll Ever Need to Read Google Drive is the perfect combination of online file storage and document management tools. We explain how to best use Google Drive on- and offline, by yourself and in collaboration with others. Read More of Google’s online office suite. Hence, you won’t find a Save button.

How to Download Google Docs

Download Google Docs

Google stores your documents on Google Drive. To download a Google Doc to your computer instead, go to File > Download as and choose your desired file format.

How to Email a Google Doc

Email a Google Doc

If you want to download the document because you want to email it, you can do that directly from the document. Go to File > Email as attachment, choose the file format you want to attach, and fill in the standard email details.

How to Share a Google Doc

Rather than emailing a document, however, we recommend sharing it. That’s because sharing allows everyone to see and work on the same version of the document. This way you avoid creating conflicting copies or duplicating your work. As mentioned previously, the recipient does not need a Google account to view or edit the document.

To share a Google Doc from within the document, click the Share button in the top right. Now you have several options:

  1. Click the Get shareable link in the top right. The link will be copied to your clipboard. and next to Anyone with the link, adjust the access level from the default can view to can edit or can comment. If you make changes, click Copy link to refresh the copy in your clipboard. Inside the same menu you can also turn off the link sharing option, meaning only specific people can access the document.
  2. Enter the names or email address/es of the desired recipient/s. Note that the default access level with this method is can edit. Click the pen icon to the right to change this to can view or can comment.
  3. Click Advanced in the bottom right to share directly to Gmail, Google Plus, Facebook, or Twitter, to control link sharing, to invite people, and to control owner settings, like preventing fellow editors from changing access and adding new people.

Share a Google Doc

If you want to share a copy of your Google Doc 10 Tips for Managing Shared Files on Google Drive 10 Tips for Managing Shared Files on Google Drive Take Google Drive beyond a file storage system with the many tips and tricks that it offers for real-time collaboration. Here are ten tips to help manage your files on Google Drive. Read More with multiple collaborators because you don’t want them to make edits to the original document, you can also use this “make a copy” trick Use This "Make a Copy" Trick When Sharing Google Drive Documents Use This "Make a Copy" Trick When Sharing Google Drive Documents If you want collaborators to automatically create copies of Google documents when they receive share links, here's a quick trick you can start using right now. Read More to save yourself some work.

How to Track Changes in Google Docs

When you make frequent changes to your Google Docs or once you have shared it with others, you will want to track changes.

Version History

Google Docs does this automatically by tracking your document’s version history. Go to File > Version History > See version history to expand a menu that lists all the changes Google has tracked for your document. You’ll see when changes were made, who made them, and they’re all highlighted in the document.

See Version History

You can even name the current version to easily revert changes made afterward. Either go to File > Version History > Name current version, enter a name, and click Save. Alternatively, go to the version history menu and click on the date or name of a version to rename it. In the version history menu, you can then enable a setting to only show named versions (see screenshot above).

Name the version

Version history is the basic form of tracking changes. You can restore a document versions by selecting it and clicking the Restore This Version button. What you can’t do is accept or discard individual changes within each version. If that’s the functionality you desire, you have to use a different feature: modes.

Suggestion Mode

Google Docs supports three different modes: Editing, Suggesting, and Viewing. Editing is the default mode. To switch to a different mode, go to View > Mode or click the pen icon in the far right of the tools menu. To control individual changes, use the Suggesting mode.

how to use google docs Suggestions Mode

When you make changes in Suggesting mode, you’ll see a comment on the right side of the document, with the option to accept or reject the suggestion. You can also write a reply to discuss each change. All changes made in this mode are tracked individually under the respective document version in the version history. This way, you have the option to review and restore rejected changes, though you’d have to restore that version of the document, meaning you’d lose all following changes.

Tip: To force your collaborators to use the Suggestion mode, set their access to can comment when sharing the document.

How to Print From Google Docs

Print From Google Docs

Printing from Google Docs works just like printing any other document on your computer. To print a Google document, open the document, then either go to File > Print or press the Ctrl + P keyboard shortcut or click the print icon in the tools menu.

Each of these actions will open your print menu. From here, choose your printer and settings and print as you normally would.

How to Edit Google Docs Offline

To edit your Google Docs offline, you have to meet a few basic conditions. First, you have to be online while setting up offline access. You also need to use Google Chrome outside of incognito mode, install and enable the Google Docs Offline Chrome extension, and have enough free storage space to save your files.

Once this is done, head to docs.google.com, click the hamburger menu in the top right, go to Settings, and make sure the slider next to Offline is in the On position (see screenshot below).

Offline Mode in Google Docs

Now, every document you start working on will also be available offline on your computer; at least temporarily. The flash icon next to the document name indicates that you’re offline. Any changes you make will be synced once you reconnect to the internet.

beginner's guide to google docs

With the Google Docs Offline extension enabled, you can review the list of all your documents under docs.google.com, even while offline. All documents permanently available offline will carry a checkmark icon. Click the three-dot-menu to control the Available offline option.

beginner's guide to google docs

The Google Docs Offline extension will also cache all documents you open. Should you lose your internet connection, you’ll have access even to those documents not explicitly available offline. In that case, you can permanently make the document available offline, even though you’re not online. Meanwhile, those documents not cached and not available offline will appear muted.

To back up and sync Google Docs files to your computer or mobile, you can also use the Google Drive Backup and Sync tool.

Google Docs, Now Under Your Control

Now you know the basics of how to use Google Docs. Time to learn more about its features relevant for business documents, try out voice typing in Google Docs, find out how to add animated GIFs to your documents and slides, or discover more Google Docs tricks 10 Google Docs Tips that Take Seconds & Save You Time 10 Google Docs Tips that Take Seconds & Save You Time When you dive down into the depths of the Drive, the right feature can help you create professional looking documents. Our speed tips will help you do it that much faster. Read More .

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  1. Dr. Frank Buck
    March 23, 2018 at 1:14 pm

    Tina,

    I've used Google Docs for probably 10 years, maybe more. This article is an excellent introduction and the one I will be directing others to when they need to start from "square 1."

    The attractions for me are the ease of sharing and the ease of getting to documents from my mobile devices.

    • Tina Sieber
      March 30, 2018 at 8:15 pm

      Thank you for your feedback, Frank! Happy to hear you appreciate the article. Do you think it's missing anything?