Guess who’s old enough to drive? Google Docs is now 16 years old.
Born in 2006, Google’s free-to-use word processor lets you create and edit documents in a web browser or mobile app, which is handy as the files are automatically saved online – in the event something happens to your computer.
Since these documents are on Google’s servers, you can also pick up where you left off, say, on another device.
You likely know you can also collaborate with other users in real time.
But there’s a lot more to Google Docs than you may realize. In fact, Google adds new features almost every year.
Here are a half-dozen tips, tricks and features to explore the next time you log in:
Talk instead of type
“Voice typing” should save you a lot of time. By some estimates, dictation can be three to four times faster than typing (and with auto-correct, it’s just as accurate).
To try it, open Google Docs in the Chrome browser and create a new document. Click the Tools menu and select Voice Typing. The program might ask for permission to use your device’s microphone (connected to your webcam) or you can select an external mic if you’re using one.
With voice typing on, whatever you say out loud will be typed out on the screen in real time. You can even edit and format using your voice – ask to see a list of commands.
My colleagues even used voice typing to transcribe press conferences during COVID-19 by parking their laptops near a TV speaker. Want to try it? Just make sure that you disable time-out settings or at least touch the mouse every few minutes to keep it from going to sleep.
How to add accent marks to letters
Unfortunately, those who need to insert letters with accent marks – often for words in other languages than English – may not know how to pull this off easily in Google Docs.
Examples include Spanish or French words like jalapeño (tilde), fiancé (acute), très (accent grave), Noël (diaeresis), façade (cedilla) or hôpital (circumflex).
There are a few ways to add accent marks to letters if Google’s autocorrect (or auto-suggestion) doesn’t do it for you:
- One is to insert a special character, by going to the spot in your doc where you want to add the accented letter, then select Insert > Special Characters from the menu and click one of the options or draw it with your mouse (or finger, on touchscreen devices).
- Another option is to learn keyboard shortcuts on a Windows or Mac, such as typing “é” with Alt+0233 (on Windows) or Option+E (on a Mac). A list of Windows shortcuts for special characters can be found here, while a list for Mac users is available here.
- One more way to do it is via Google’s Input Tools. Simply choose the letter (or word, phrase, or sentence) you want and copy it into Google Docs.
Paste text without formatting
Students will love this one – and props to my daughter Maya, a college sophomore, for the tip!
Say you want to copy and paste text from another document or website into Google Docs – so you can then massage the content into your own words (ahem) – you’ll likely want to strip the formatting and just see plain text, right?
Some users will do the unnecessary step of first copying the formatted text into Notepad and then copying and pasting the plain text into Google Docs. But there’s no need.
To paste text without formatting, simply use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl+Shift+V (for Windows users) or Command+Shift+V (for Macs) and this will take the text that’s in your clipboard and paste only the plain text.
You can also click Edit and select Paste without formatting.
Unlock some templates
Why start from scratch when you could use a template for, say, writing a resume, designing a newsletter, or drafting a business proposal?
In fact, there are several templates to take advantage of and divided into various categories too.
When you open Google Docs, simply look at the top of the page and you’ll see a handful of templates to choose from to give you a head start on your writing. Click the arrows where it says “Template Gallery” and it will open up even more options to select.
Draft an email in Google Docs
Speaking of templates, Google just announced it’s beginning to roll out a new email draft template that should make it easy to collaborate on an email draft – in Google Docs.
Simply type in someone’s name in the @ menu and Google will look at your Contacts and suggest the rest of the email address and then start typing a message in the body (and others can, too, whoever you’re synching with online).
When ready to send, click the Gmail logo on the left and compose window will pop up, allowing you to review (and add) other sender fields (To, CC, BCC) and read or edit the subject line and body and then send it away (via Gmail).
Available to all Google Workspace customers, as well as legacy G Suite Basic and Business customers, insert an email template by going to Insert > Building Blocks > Email draft.
Find and replace
Many people know you can easily find text in any document with the shortcut Ctrl+F (in Windows) or Command+F (on a Mac) and then type in the word you want to find.
But what if you wanted to locate a word or phrase – and sub in something else, all at the same time? Google Docs makes it easy.
To find something in your document, click Edit (top navigation bar) and select “Find and replace,” at the bottom of the dropdown menu. (Another way to do this is to use the Ctrl/Command + F and then click the “…” icon in the box that will appear on the top right of your document.)
Either way, it will pull up a window that lets you type in the text you want to find and replace it with the corrected text you type in. Select “Replace all” if there are multiple instances of that text you want to replace.