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Google Docs brings collaborative word processing — writing, notetaking, annotation, and more — to any device with a Web browser. No special software is required, no saving is required, and multiple people can work together on the same document at the same time.

Google Docs is part of G Suite for Education.


In the beginning, all was dark. Then, there was blue:


Picture of WordPerfect 5.1 screen circa 1989


Don't get me wrong, WordPerfect 5.1 was the bomb before .com. Still, here in the future, we have more powerful, flexible, shareable, and collaborative tools for word processing (also free!), and Google Docs is a great example of that. Let's get started!


Accessing, Creating, and Importing to Google Docs

You can find Docs with (nearly) any Web browser by visiting docs.google.com


Gif demonstrating accessing Google Docs through the Google apps menu


As usual, you can also access Docs -- and most Google apps -- through the nine-dots menu. Now that you're here, you're probably ready to process those words. There are many ways to create a new Google Doc, but if you're already in Docs, click +Blank, or choose any template from the template gallery.


 Picture of the +Blank button that creates a new Google Doc


If you're in Google Drive, click +New > Google Docs > Blank document or From a Template.


Gif demonstrating creating a new Google Doc from within Google Drive


Even quicker: You can hit the ground running by typing docs.new into your Web browser.

As great as the beautiful blue screens of WordPerfect 5.1 were, those files are sadly not compatible with Docs, although just about any other word processing document is. To import a file to Google Doc format, just upload that file to your Drive by clicking the +New buttonPicture of the +New button in Google Drive > File Upload.


Gif demonstrating opening a file within Google Drive with Google Docs


That done, right-click the file you'd like to convert and choose Open with > Google Docs to convert it. Files with .doc, .docx, .dot, .html, .txt, .odt, and .rtf will generally play friendly here, and once they do, you'll have an upgraded file ready to take anywhere.


Adding and Customizing Text and More

Whether you're creating from scratch or importing another document type, sooner or later you'll find yourself in Google Docs with a big, beautiful working area full of possibilities. For now, let's start with a blank document:


Picture of a blank document in Google Docs


Not that "Untitled document" isn't a compelling name, but let's give it another. To rename your doc, click Untitled document and type a newer, much more idosyncratic title.


Gif demonstrating renaming a document in Google Docs


That's better. To enter text or edit text on your document, just click on the page and type away! To adjust margins, page color, or orientation, click File > Page setup. For everything else, check out your options on the toolbar:


Picture of the formatting options in Google Docs


(Depending on the width/resolution of your screen, you may have to click the more options button -- the three dots Picture of the more options icon in Google Docs -- to see all of the toolbar options.) 

As with all G Suite tools, there are many ways to accomplish tasks in Docs, but the toolbar is a great place to start. For example, to add an image to your Doc, you can use the menu and click Insert > Image, or you can just click the Insert Image button Picture of the Insert Image button in Google Docs. You can insert an image from your computer, search the Web for one, browse your Drive, and more.


Gif demonstrating inserting an image from Google Drive into a document in Google Docs


To add a table to your document, click Insert > Table.


Gif demonstrating adding a table in Google Docs


As you move your mouse over the context menu that appears, you can select your new table's dimensions — as your cursor moves to the right and/or down, the menu will expand to match.


Gif demonstrating creating a terrible drawing within Google Docs


If you're feeling creative, you can even insert a drawing into your document, or draw one right within Docs. Click Insert > Drawing and choose to draw something new, or you can select a drawing from your Drive. Check out the masterpiece I created in seconds above (time-lapse three hours).

To create a link in your document, highlight any text you'd like to use for your link, then either click Insert > Link, or right-click and select Link, or use the Link button in the toolbar Picture of the Insert Link button in Google Docs (Ctrl+K works, too!)


Gif demonstrating creating a link from text in Google Docs


You could, of course, just cut-and-paste the URL you'd like students to visit directly into your document, like: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trichotillomania, but it's usually best practice to link text that already exists in a document with some kind of direct or indirect indication referencing the fact that the text links to something (even though hyperlinks in Docs default to bog-standard, underlined blue). For example, did you know that one of the most common causes of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome isn't competitive video gaming, but rather pulling one's own hair?

You can also link directly to specific text in your document by highlighting that text and clicking Insert > Bookmark. Now, the next time you click Insert > Link, you can click Bookmarks for a list of text you've bookmarked in that document. Even cooler: If you have a long document with a lot of headings, you can click Insert > Table of contents, which automagically creates a table of contents page that links to each and every heading (text you've applied a heading style to) in your document.


Sharing and Collaborating

Now that you've created your masterpiece, you probably want to share it. To share a Google Doc, just click the Share button Picture of the Share button in Google Docson the upper-right-hand corner of the screen. (Of course, sharing any file from your Google Drive is easy — just right-click the file you'd like to share and click Share.)


Picture of the Sharing Settings pop-up in Google Docs


Once the Share with others pop-up appears, start typing the names of anyone you'd like to share your document with. You can choose whether you'd like to share view, edit, or comment access:

  • View: People can view, but can’t change or share the file with others.
  • Comment: People can make comments and suggestions, but can’t change or share the file with others.
  • Edit: People can make changes, accept or reject suggestions, and share the file with others.

You can also click on Get shareable link to copy a direct link to your file that you can paste anywhere (Remember, Ctrl+C = copy; Ctrl+V = paste.)


 Gif demonstrating accessing Advanced Sharing Options in Google Docs


Click advanced to see even more sharing options.

Of course, you can still share Google Docs the old-fashioned way, as our ancient forefathers did: downloading. To download a Google Doc as another file formate, click File > Download as.


Picture of the Download as menu from Google Docs


Your options here are: 

  • Microsoft Word (.docx)
  • OpenDocument Format (.odt)
  • Rich Text Format (.rtf)
  • PDF Document (.pdf)
  • Plain text (.txt)
  • Web page (.html, zipped)
  • EPUB publication (.epub)


Last but far from least is one of the most powerful and useful features of Google Docs, the ability to collaborate in real time using comments and suggestions. 

Comments are what they sound like, and in Docs you can comment on any component (text, header ... whatever) of a document. When you do, it highlights the relevant text with a nice little callout displaying the comment and who made the comment. To add a comment, highlight the section of text you'd like to comment on, then click the Add a Comment button Picture of the Comment Button in Google Docsthat appears next to it (it also appears in the toolbar).


Gif demonstrating highlighting and adding a comment to text in Google Docs


You can even address a comment to a specific person, which notifies that person via email. To address a comment to a specific person, type a + and that person's email, e.g. .


Gif demonstrating assigning a comment in Google Docs


Now, let's say you've been invited to collaborate on someone else's document, or you're reading through a student-submitted doc, and you see something that needs fixin'. Sure, you could recklessly delete or modify text, but you could also suggest changes that the document's owner should make. That way, the doc's owner can either take or leave your suggestions. To add a suggestion, first make sure you're viewing the document in suggesting mode Picture of the suggesting mode button in Google Docs (the default mode when you open a document is editing mode Picture of the Editing Mode button in Google Docs). 


Gif demonstrating making a suggestion in Google Docs


Once you've switched to suggesting mode, just edit the document like normal, except anything you type in this mode is a suggestion, meaning text to be changed, added, or deleted will be marked as such, and the owner will be able to either Accept or Reject your suggestions. They'll get an email notifying them of your suggestions, and when they click Accept or Reject, your changes will be applied or discarded.

... And that's it for this round of Google Docs. Stay tuned for more next-gen online word processing and publishing action in Google Docs II: The Revision (History). Coming Soon! 

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