13 features to improve your Google Docs experience

This article is republished with permission from Wonder Tools, a newsletter that helps you discover the most useful sites and applications. Subscribe here.

I post five useful things to do with Google Docs Last week. It’s a follow-up with some handy but hidden features of Google Docs.

1. Translate text instantly

Share your document in another language. Your original is kept: Google Docs simply creates a translated copy of your document. It’s not human quality, but it’s good enough for the essentials.
How: Go to Tools > Translate document.

2. Show Persistent Word Count

Word counters, delight! It’s new. Display a persistent count at the bottom left of your edit window.
How: Go to Tools > Word Count—or Command-Shift-C— and select “Show word count as you type.”

3. Create a web page from a document

You can publish documents to the web quickly, easily and for free. In an emergency, this can be a handy way to create a public webpage. You can even make it publicly editable, thus converting it into a community Wiki. This approach has been used to provide emergency information and to track people’s safety after natural disasters.
How: Go to the File menu and click Publish to the web.

4. Create typing shortcuts

You can tell Google Docs to expand any short phrase or letter combination you type into anything else. This is useful for any long word or phrase that you type frequently. You can set them up for your email or mailing address, a word you misspell often, or anything else. When you type “myemail” or whatever letters or phrases you choose, Google Docs automatically expands it into your email address.
How: To configure shortcuts, go to Tools > preferences, so to select Replacements top right.

5. Check for changes

Version history is a great tool for checking what people have changed without having to manually review each sentence. At a glance, it will show you what was changed, by whom, and when.
How: Go to File > Version History

6. Name the versions

If you edit a document and end up with several different versions, go to File > Version History and then “Name of a version” and give a specific name to the version you are working on. Like “Jane’s edit” or “Prepublish version without images” or whatever makes sense to you.
How: Here is a 30 second video demo:

7. Add a table of contents

If you have a long document, automatically create a table of contents (TOC) so users can quickly find what they need. Place your cursor where you want the table of contents to appear.
How: To select Insert > Table of Contents and decide if you want the links to be black or blue. Choose the black option for a cleaner look. Then adjust key headings in the document so they appear in the table of contents by using the Format menu to style section headings. Here is step by step help on it if you need it.

8. Clean up your document

Use horizontal line breaks to clean up long documents into neater sections.
How: Utilize Insert > Horizontal Line

9. Add a GIF to add a visual explanation or to bring a document to life

Add visual movement right next to your words with GIFs. It’s a good way to get around not being able to embed videos.
How: Go to Insert > Picture and upload a GIF.

To see an example of a GIF in a Google Doc or to try adding one, visit my chat gibberish public doc. Test it by inserting a GIF.

10. Use larger fonts

Larger text is easier to read. It may seem strange at first, but people will appreciate the readability of your documents. Use size 14 if you can get away with it. See the second page of this one chat gibberish doc to see the difference a larger font makes.

11. Use Georgia or Raleway

These fonts are easy to read, elegant and professional. If you want more font options, click the font button in the tool palette, then More fonts to add variants.

12. Type doc.new in Chrome’s address bar to instantly create a new document

Skip the navigation steps and start working on a new document instantly. It also works by typing sheet.new, slide.new, form.new, site.new, or cal.new to instantly create Google spreadsheets, slides, forms, sites, or calendar events.

13. Create a highlighter effect

How: Select some text, click the highlighter button and choose bright yellow.

Alternatives to Google Docs

Some people swear by a new generation of clean and simple apps for writing online.

Popular apps in this vein include Bear, Ulysses, calmly writerand Drafts. They aim to be “distraction-free” writing spaces with minimalist menus so you can focus on your words. Hemingway is a great alternative that automatically highlights ways your writing could be refined.


Jeremy Caplan is director of teaching and learning at CUNY’s Newmark Graduate School of Journalism and creator of the Wonder Tools newsletter.

This article is republished with permission from Wonder Tools, a newsletter that helps you discover the most useful sites and applications. Subscribe here.

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