13 Handy Tips, Tricks, and Hacks for Using Google Docs

This man is so good at using Google Docs that he doesn't even need both hands.
This man is so good at using Google Docs that he doesn't even need both hands. / Urilux/iStock via Getty Images

Even if you’re already well-acquainted with the multi-user capabilities, keyboard shortcuts, and other merits of Google Docs, there might be a few handy tricks you haven’t heard of yet. From its built-in web browser to its transcription feature, here are 13 useful tips that will transform you into a certifiable Google Docs wizard.

1. Open a new Google Doc in one step.

Opening a new Google Doc isn’t too labor-intensive, but there’s a way to make it a one-step process. Instead of navigating to a blank page through your Google Drive, just type “docs.new” or “doc.new” into your web browser’s search bar, and it’ll take you to a fresh document. (You can also open a new Google Sheet with “sheet.new” or a new Slide with “slide.new”).

2. Include a handwritten signature or edited image.

You can add a funky pink shape to a map showing the location of Manhattan's only Dairy Queen, if you're so inclined.
You can add a funky pink shape to a map showing the location of Manhattan's only Dairy Queen, if you're so inclined. / Ellen Gutoskey

Under “Insert,” scroll down to “Drawing” and hit “New.” Hover over the “Line” menu and choose “Scribble,” which gives you a blank box to write your signature. It might not be your very best handwriting—especially if you’re using a mouse or trackpad, rather than a touchscreen—but it’s definitely more efficient than printing your document out, signing your name with a pen, and having to scan the whole page.

The drawing function can also come in handy if you’d like to modify an image. Say, for example, you’d like to circle a certain location on a map—you can drag and drop an image (or import one from your files) into your new drawing, and insert a shape or an arrow from the options in the toolbar.

3. Keep the word count on display right in your document.

For those of you who find yourselves checking the word count after virtually every sentence you type—whether you’re writing something with a strict word limit or just nursing a slightly neurotic habit—save yourself the trouble of multiple visits to the “Tools” section and check the box to “Display word count while typing,” which is at the bottom of the word count pop-up box. You’ll see the word count in the bottom left corner of the screen, and you can expand it to see the character count and other stats. If you’re not quite ready to commit to an omnipresent word count, you can still avoid the toolbar by hitting “Control+Shift+C” (or “Command+Shift+C” on a Mac) and the word count box will automatically appear.

4. Use a keyboard shortcut to paste text without formatting.

Speaking of keyboard shortcuts, you can paste text that matches your existing text by pressing “Control+Shift+V” (“Command+Shift+V” on a Mac). That way, for example, a quote that you’ve copied from an article written in 14-point Comic Sans will appear in 11-point Arial (or whatever you’ve set your font as). For similar time-saving magic, check out “Keyboard shortcuts” in the “Help” menu.

5. Assign edits to specific people.

Is this a disappointment to more than one person?
Is this a disappointment to more than one person? / Ellen Gutoskey

In the upper right corner of your screen, there’s a little pencil icon that gives you the option to work in “Suggesting” mode, where everything you type renders as a suggested edit. Each edit gets its own comment box along the right side of the document, with the option to accept, reject, or reply to the change. If you’re collaborating with multiple people on a project, you can assign an edit to a specific user by typing “+” in the reply box and entering an email address—Google will then send an email notifying the person that there’s a suggestion waiting for them.

6. Revert to an earlier version of your Google Doc.

Not only does Google automatically save your document changes as you make them, but it also keeps a record of all those changes. You can access previous versions of your Google Doc by going to “File,” “Version history,” and “See version history.” There, you can expand any earlier draft to see the specific edits highlighted in the Doc—as well as when they were made and who made them, which is especially useful if more than one person is editing.

7. Search the internet or look up a word without opening a new window.

You can cut down on the number of tabs you’re juggling with two Google Doc hacks: the built-in internet browser and the built-in dictionary. The internet browser is under “Tools” and “Explore” (or “Control+Alt+Shift+I,” or “Command+Option+Shift+I” on a Mac), and it also searches through your Google Drive. You can access the dictionary under “Tools” and “Dictionary,” or use the shortcut “Control+Shift+Y” (“Command+Shift+Y” on a Mac). You can also get to either feature by right-clicking on any word or phrase in your Doc and choosing “Explore” or “Define.”

8. Create your own shorthand by customizing autocorrect features.

So you never forget the accent in Beyoncé.
So you never forget the accent in Beyoncé. / Ellen Gutoskey

Select “Preferences” under “Tools” and you’ll be able to check or uncheck general preferences like “Automatically capitalize words,” “Automatically correct spelling,” and more. For a more personalized autocorrect experience, switch to the “Substitutions” tab—there, you can direct Google to automatically replace any given word, letter, or symbol with one of your choice. If, for example, you’d like Google to always add an accent to the e in Beyoncé, type Beyonce in the “Replace” column and Beyoncé in the “With” column.

9. Cut down on spell-check errors by adding words to your personal dictionary.

To stop Google from continually registering certain unique words or names as spelling errors, add them to your “Personal Dictionary,” which is listed under “Tools” and then “Spelling and grammar.” If a word is already marked as an error in your Google Doc, you can also add it to your dictionary by right-clicking and choosing the “Add [word] to Dictionary.”

10. Convert your Google Doc to a different type of file.

Prefer to work in Google Docs, but your manager always asks for Microsoft Word files? You can download your Google Doc as a Word document by going to “File” and “Download.” There are also options to convert it into a PDF, a web page, a plain text file, and more. Before you send it to anyone, we recommend giving it a read-through to make sure the formatting translated properly.

11. Transcribe audio files with Google’s voice typing feature.

While Google’s voice typing capabilities don’t extend to deciphering an audio file played aloud on a speaker, the process is definitely easier than pausing the audio every few seconds so you can manually type each word. In your navigation bar, go to “Tools” and then “Voice typing,” and make sure your microphone is enabled. Plug in your headphones, play your audio file, and clearly dictate whatever’s said—Google will transcribe it all for you. The feature can also be helpful for people with arthritis or other impairments that make it difficult to use a keyboard.

12. Enable offline editing.

Even if you’re not planning on being somewhere without internet access in the near future, Wi-Fi or power outages can happen unexpectedly—so it’s a good idea to enable offline editing just in case. To do it, install the Google Docs Offline extension, go to your Google Docs homepage, hit the main menu icon (three horizontal lines in the upper left corner), and choose “Settings.” Then, hit the gray “Offline” button so it slides to the right and turns blue.

13. Take advantage of other handy add-ons.

If you choose “Get add-ons” under “Add-ons” in your Google Doc toolbar, you’ll be able to search for add-ons or browse through Google’s most popular ones. A few of the highest-rated offerings include: Lucidchart, which helps you build flowcharts, diagrams, and more within your Doc; EasyBib, which automatically generates bibliography citations in APA, Chicago, or MLA format; and Doc to Form, which lets you easily convert information from a Google Doc into a Google Form (Google’s platform for online surveys).