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Google Docs: what you should know

Google Drive offers us a way to create and edit documents in the browser. No desktop program required! Create and format your own, or choose one of the designs from the template gallery.

Google Docs are just one in a range of Drive applications that bring file creation and editing into the 21st century. Created and stored online, you can access from any device, wherever you are.

Google Doc examples

Here’s a couple of examples of what you can do with Docs. The column effect was done using tables, which you can access using Insert in the document toolbar.

Example of a Google recipe
Example of a Google Doc resume

Have multiple editors with Google Docs

The ability to allow multiple editors comes as standard, with all Drive file types, using the “Share” feature.

Prerequisites

This guide assumes you already have a Google account, know how to access Google Drive, and are able to create and manage Drive folders, also shown in the accessing Drive guide.

It is a quick guide to help you become accustomed to Google Docs. More advanced topics will follow.

How to create and format Google Docs

Create or find the folder you intend to create the document in and double click it to open it. Either right-click in an empty space, or click New and then select Google Doc. This will create an unnamed document. If you’re creating the file in a shared folder, you’ll get a prompt requesting permission to continue.

Google file templates

When you’re starting a file from scratch and looking for ideas, you can use a ready styled file from the template gallery. To find out more: view the guide to accessing and creating templates.

Google Doc te,plate gallery

With templates there's quite a few categories to go at. I'll deal with creating and formatting your own in a later guide. Meanwhile: here's a list of the document template gallery categories.

  • Recently used
  • CVs
  • Letters
  • Personal
  • Work
  • Sales
  • Education

Standardization: ensuring your headings styles are applied throughout

Google Doc toolbar

Looking at the toolbar you’ll notice the dropdown headed Normal text. Opening the dropdown will reveal the different headings available. By default, the only difference is the font size.

Pretty boring I think you’ll agree, but this is only the starting point. We can change the size, colour, font family and line spacing. And to ensure our styles remain constant we can automatically apply the same styling to all headings of that style.

If you want to follow along with this, open or create a document and type a few words such as “this is my heading. Then either place the cursor just before the start of the first word, or highlight one or more of the words.

Then open the dropdown headed Normal text. And select Heading 1. You’ll now notice the text has increased in size. Then highlight the heading 1 text and open the font family dropdown where you’ll be given access to the font library. Choose a font.

Once again highlight the heading and set the font size by clicking the plus or minus signs either side of the number next to the font family dropdown.

Obviously: repeating the above process with every heading 1 isn’t the road to a happy life. We need this style to be applied to all our Heading 1s automatically.

Notice, in the toolbar, the capital A with the thick bar beneath it. This is where we set the font colour. Highlight all the text you wish to change the colour of and then click on the “A” icon and select a colour.

Once again place your cursor at the beginning of your newly styled heading, then click on the text which will by then have changed to Heading 1. You’ll notice that the dropdown heading 1 has adopted your new style.

Option to update heading in Google Docs

You’ll notice the headings all have a small arrow on their right. Hover over this and click on Update heading 1 to match. Now create another heading 1, either by one of the ways mentioned above or by placing your cursor where you want the heading to go, set the txt to Heading 1, and then type your heading

You can do this with all the text types, including the paragraph. Now we focus on adding content to our document instead of checking if all the styles are consistent This practice becomes even more useful when we create templates.

Renaming Google files

Name area of a Google Doc showing Untitled document

This process is the same, regardless of the file type. Once the file has been created, you’ll note it has a default name, such as “Untitled document”, in the top left. Click on this and rename your file. Do the same if you want to change its name later.

Deleting files from Google Drive

What happens when you right click a Drive file

Right click on the file and select Remove to move the file to the bin. Note you’ll still have access to the file for the next 30 days, after which it’ll be permanently deleted.

Sharing files with other users

All files can be edited by multiple users at the same time. Sharing Google folders and files explains this in more detail.

If your document is already open, clicking the blue Share button in the top right will open the share window.

Alternatively: if you’re in the document’s parent folder, hover over the file, right-click, and select Share.

Editing and formatting Google Docs

Where document editing is concerned, Drive docs can be edited in a similar way to any desktop document application. Drive has the same type of formatting toolbar.

How to change your document properties

Google doc page setup area

Document properties refer to the layout of the document appearance, such as page size, background colour and margins. Such features can be found by clicking File on the toolbar, and then selecting Page setup. Make any changes then click the blue OK button.

Reviewing and reverting back to previous versions

It’s quite easy to edit a document and later realize a mistake or notice you’re beginning to veer off track. It could also be that when a document has multiple editors, someone makes a mistake. This doesn’t mean we have to start again from scratch.

Not only can we see who and when other editors, or even ourselves, edited a document, we can also revert back to previous versions. We can preview all versions right back to when the document was created. We can also name our versions.

To view the document’s version history: click File in the toolbar and select Version history. This will open a panel on the right showing all previous versions. This will display when and who by the edits were made.

Click on the version you want to view. Notice at the top of the version,you’ll see a blue button with the option to Restore this version. The back arrow on the top right will allow you to navigate back to the current version.

Headers and footers

Headers and footers are often part and parcel of documents. Google gives us the choice of with or both. We can also have the first page different from the others.

How do I insert a header into my google Doc?

Usually a simple double-click at the top of the page is all it takes, likewise when inserting a footer. An alternate method is to click Insert in the toolbar, then hover over Headers and footers and choose the one you want to insert it into the Doc.

Whatever you place inside the header can be formatted just the same as other text. Alternatively: you can also insert an image.

Empty Google Doc header

By default, the header will appear the same on every page, but this can be changed, at least to some degree, by checking the Different first page box at the foot of the header.

Clicking on Options will enable you to format the header, but to a minor extent.

Downloading, embedding and attaching Google Docs to emails

In instances when sharing is not a viable option, we have options for emailing, either as an attachment or by embedding them in the email. File options when attaching are:

  • PDF
  • Rich text
  • Open document
  • HTML
  • Microsoft Word
  • Plain text

Open the document you want to email and click File on the toolbar. Then gover over Email and select Email this file.

In the window that opens: add your recipients’ email address. At the bottom of the frame you’ll see the option to Don't attach. Include content in the email.check the box if this is what you want.

If you’d rather attach the file, just below this is a dropdown listing all the file type options. The default setting is PDF. If this isn’t what you want, click on it and select the correct one.

As the guide on groups explains: you can email the document to multiple users by adding the email address of the group they belong to, rather than individual users.

Downloading Google Docs

Documents can be downloaded in various forms. To do so, and with the document open, click File and then hover over Download, where you’ll then be presented with a range of format options.

Uploading files to Google Drive

While we, even Microsoft diehards, no longer have to be tied to Microsoft Office, there are times when we may need to convert non Drive files to make them editable in Drive. This is a fairly simple process.

We begin either in our destination folder, or in the root Drive folder, from which we can move it later. As if creating a new folder or file. click New. In the resulting dropdown we then select File upload. The upload progress will show in the bottom right.

Once uploaded we can right click the file and hover over Open with to select Google Docs. A similar process can be followed to upload folders.