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For 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.
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. 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.
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 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
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
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.
The final tip in this article is for those of you who frequently write documents that need to be translated from language to language. 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.
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