Google Docs is a popular word processor among writers. It comes as part of the Google Docs Editor suite, which includes services like Google Sheets, Google Slides, etc., and is entirely free to use.

google docs features

If you’re a writer or if your work requires you to create or edit a lot of documents, then Google Docs is probably the best service for you. What makes Docs stand out from other word processors is its extensive feature set, which includes features like collaboration, spell and grammar check, a built-in dictionary, and an integrated research tool, to name a few.

Google Docs Tips & Tricks

If you’ve been a Google Docs user for some time or are just getting started with it, here’s a list of the best Google Docs features you should know about and start using to get the most out of the service.

1. Templates for Faster Document Creation

Google bundles a decent selection of templates for different kinds of documents in Docs. So for all those times when you can’t think of formatting ideas for your document, you can pick one of these templates to get started.

Follow these steps to find and use a template in Docs:

  1. While on the Google Docs home page, hover over the plus icon and select the Choose template option.
  2. In the Template gallery, scroll through the page to view various document categories.
    google docs template
  3. Click on a template you like on this list to open it.

As soon as the chosen template is open, you can edit and modify it as per your requirements.

2. Table of Contents to Ease Document Navigation

A table of contents is a list of all the sections/headings in a document with their corresponding page numbers. It’s placed right at the beginning of a document and makes navigation through its numerous sections easier.

On Google Docs, you can add a table of content to your document in two ways: with page numbers and with blue links. If you’re creating a document with well-labeled page numbers, you can create the table of content with page numbers. Else, if that’s not the case—and you want to ease out navigation for the reader by offering them the ability to click on section links to jump right into them in the document—you can use blue links.

For setting up either of these options in a document, here’s what you need to do:

  1. Populate your document with the content and all the sections and their headings.
  2. Click on Insert, hover over Table of contents, and select a list type.
    google docs table of contents

Depending on which option you select, you’ll see the table of content accordingly. At any point, if you make changes to your document, hover over the table of contents section and hit the reload icon to its left to update it.

3. Bookmarks for Quick Reference / Easier Navigation

Similar to adding a table of contents to your documents, bookmarking is another helpful feature in Google Docs that can help you navigate the document efficiently.

But that’s not all. Bookmarking an item in a document also has another benefit: it can help you set references within the same or other documents so that it’s easier to find those items in a document.

Here’s how to bookmark an item in Google Docs:

  1. Select the text in the document you want to bookmark.
  2. Click on Insert and select Bookmark. (A blue ribbon will appear next to your select text, indicating that it’s been bookmarked.)
  3. Select the text you want to be linked to the bookmark such that tapping on it redirects to the bookmarked item.
  4. Click on Insert again and select Link.
  5. Tap on the bookmarked item in the list. It’ll appear with a bookmark icon to its left.
  6. Hit Apply to save the bookmark.
    google docs bookmarking

Now, this text will be hyperlinked to your bookmarked item. So every time you click on it, it will take you to the bookmarked item’s position in the document.

4. Offline Mode to Write While You’re Offline

Even though you’re more likely to work in Docs when you’re online, there may be times when there’d be no internet connection, or you’d be at a place without the internet. For such times, you need the offline mode in Docs, which lets you create, view, or edit documents even without the internet.

Offline mode works with all Chromium-based browsers. Here’s how to make a document available offline:

  1. Open the document you want to access offline.
  2. Click on File and select Make available offline.
    google docs offline access
  3. If you haven’t already, Docs will ask you to install the Docs Offline extension on your browser. Click Install.
  4. With the extension installed, you’ll be prompted with a message to turn on offline access for all files. Tap on Turn on to do so.

Now, you can access and work on this document even when there’s no active connection. When you want to exit offline mode, go to File > Remove offline access.

5. Explore For Researching While Writing

Often, when you’re working on a story or project that demands researching various topics on the internet, you’ll need to open multiple browser tabs and go back and forth between them and Docs, which can get out of hand.

To simplify this, Google offers a built-in Explore feature that lets you research topics on the internet, find images, and even access other documents on your Google Drive right inside Docs.

So now, whenever you want to research a topic or look up an image to attach to your document online, click the Explore button at the bottom of the document. Then, when it brings up the Explore section (on the right side), tap on the search box to enter your query and hit Enter/return to search it.

google docs explore

Once Explore finds and returns relevant results, tap on the WEB, IMAGES, or DRIVE tab to filter out the results accordingly. If it’s an article link that you want to view, click on it to open it in a new tab. In case of an image, tap on the plus icon on top of it to import it into the document. And lastly, to access a document containing your search query, tap on a document from the list.

6. Voice Typing to Enter Text Quickly

Voice typing is an accessibility feature that lets you use your voice as an input method to add text to your Docs document. In addition to inputting text, you can also use voice typing to edit and format the document.

To use this feature, all you need is a Chromium-based web browser. After which, you can follow these instructions to use voice typing:

  1. Open a document.
  2. Click on Tools > Voice typing. Alternatively, press the Command + Shift + S or Ctrl + Shift + S keys on Mac and Windows, respectively, to bring up the voice typing box.
  3. Tap on the microphone icon in this box. If you’re using voice typing for the first time, you’ll need to grant Docs access to your microphone. Hit Allow in the permissions prompt that appears to do this.
    google docs voice typing
  4. Now, start dictating text to your computer. Be sure to maintain a decent pace and clear pronunciations as you dictate the text. Speak out the names of punctuation marks to add them to your document.
  5. Once you’ve finished entering the text, click the microphone icon again.

Check out Google’s documentation on voice typing to learn more.

7. Personal Dictionary for Non-Dictionary Words

Google Docs has a built-in spellcheck tool, which ensures there are no misspelled words in your documents. While this feature works fine and the dictionary behind this very rarely highlights spellings as incorrect, it can sometimes mark certain slang or company names as misspelled.

Fortunately, Google Docs offers the personal dictionary mode, which lets you add such words to your own dictionary so that they don’t get highlighted as misspelled again.

Follow these steps to add a word to your personal dictionary:

  1. Select the word highlighted as misspelled in your document.
  2. Click on the three dots in the pop-up and select Add X to dictionary, where X is the word you want to add to the dictionary.

8. Substitutions to Save Keystrokes

Substitutions, equivalent to text replacement, is a Docs feature that allows you to input complex characters and lets you set triggers for long words/strings to enter them into a document efficiently. It’s essentially a pair of a trigger key and its replacement text, wherein entering the feature automatically identifies the trigger as you type it and replaces it with its replacement text.

Here’s how to use substitutions in Docs:

  1. Click on Tools > Preferences.
  2. Tap on the Substitutions tab.
  3. Here, tick the checkbox for Automatic substitution.
  4. Hit OK.

google docs substitution

By default, Docs already has a bunch of trigger-substitute pairs. You can use these, as well as create your custom ones, like this:

  1. In the Substitutions tab, tap on the top box under Replace and add your trigger word.
  2. Similarly, click on the box below With and add the replacement text there.

Eg: Setting up a substitution for ‘ttyl’ that replaces it with its longer form ‘Talk to you later’.

9. Dictionary for Quick Definition Look Up

Sometimes, while working on a document, you may feel unsure if a word you’re about to use in your writing will fit the context right. Although you can look up the definition of this word by opening a new tab, it isn’t a very efficient approach.

As an alternative, Google offers a built-in dictionary in Docs that makes it really easy to look up a word. Follow these steps to use it:

  1. Select and highlight the word you want to define in the document.
  2. Right-click on the word and select Define. Or select the word and press the Control + Shift + Y or Command + Shift + Y keyboard shortcut.

A Dictionary window will appear to the right of the document. Here, you can find the meaning of the word along with a few other details, like synonyms.

10. Suggesting Mode to Suggest Valuable Edits

Collaboration is a nifty Google Docs feature that lets you work on a document with others such that both parties can make changes and view changes in the document in real-time. Although this works well, sometimes, you may only want to suggest an edit without actually making changes to the document.

Suggesting mode comes in handy here. It lets you suggest your edits to the document owner so they can view them and make amendments to the original document accordingly.

To use the suggesting mode, with the document open, tap on the pen icon in the toolbar and select Suggestion from the menu. If you don’t have edit access, tap on Request edit access.

google docs suggesting mode

Once you’ve been granted access, start editing the document to suggest your edits/changes. All your edits will appear in a new color in the document. If you’d like to add details for your suggestions, click on it and type a comment. Hit Reply to save it.

As soon as you do this, the file owner will get an email about your suggestions, which he can then open to view your suggested edits.

11. E-Signature for Virtual Document Signing

Docs isn’t just limited to casual writing, and its template selection is a testament to that fact. So, for instance, you can use Docs to write down a business letter, project proposal, and sales quote, among other things.

As such, some of these use cases might require you to e-sign the document. Google Docs has a built-in drawing mode that makes this possible.

To e-sign a document, open it and go to Insert > Drawing > Add New. Click on the dropdown beside Line and select Scribble. Begin drawing your signature using the trackpad and hit Save and close.

google docs esign

Finally, resize the signature and move it to the signing area.

12. Version History to Keep Track of Changes

Version history is a very useful Docs feature that lets you find out the date of creation of a document as well as view all the edits and changes it’s been through over time. That way, if you don’t like any change, you can simply undo it and revert to any previous version.

Follow these steps to review the version history:

  1. Click on File and select Version history > See version history.
    google docs version history
  2. A Version history window will appear to the right of the document.
  3. Tap on a version to view all its details.
    google docs version history
  4. To restore a version, click on the three-dot and select Restore this version.

13. Translate for Quick Translations

No matter what kind of document you’re working on in Docs, the need to translate text from one language to another may arise anytime. Fortunately, Google offers a built-in translator inside Google Docs that makes it extremely easy to translate text/documents.

Here’s how to use translation in Docs:

  1. Open the document you want to translate.
  2. Click on Tools and select Translate document.
  3. Add a name for this translated document and select the language to which you want to translate it.
  4. Hit Translate to begin translation.

14. Find and Replace to Edit Faster

For all those times when you want to replace multiple instances of a word in your document, the find and replace feature can prove to be very useful. As its name suggests, it allows you to replace all word occurrences in a document with its substitute.

To use find and replace, select Edit > Find and replace. Alternatively, press Control + Shift + H or Command + Shift + H. In the Find and replace window, enter the word you want to replace next to the Find field and its substitute beside Replace with.

google docs find and replace

Finally, hit Replace all to perform your action.

15. Add-Ons to Extend Docs’ Functionality

While Docs has a pretty impressive range of built-in features, it also offers add-ons, which extend its functionality even further. Integrating Box storage and Grammarly grammar check are a couple of many valuable add-ons you can add to Docs.

Here’s how to add an add-on to Docs:

  1. Click on Extensions > Add-ons.
  2. Select Get add-ons from the menu.
  3. In the Google Workspace Marketplace, find the add-on you want to add.
    google add-ons
  4. Click on the Install button on the following screen to add it to Docs.

16. Page Settings for Custom Documents

By default, any document you create in Docs uses the letter paper size in portrait orientation with a set value for all its margins. However, there may be times when this setting wouldn’t suit your document’s requirements.

For such times, Google lets you change page settings. Here’s how to do this:

  1. With the document you want to apply page settings to open, click on File > Page setup.
  2. Tap on the Pages tab in the Page setup window.
  3. Click on the setting you want to change and select the appropriate option for it as per your requirements.
    google docs page setup settings
  4. Tap OK to apply the changes.
  5. To set defaults, hit Set as default.

17. Pageless for Continuos-Scrolling Documents

Changing page settings is helpful when you want to modify elements like orientation, headers, footers, page numbers, and more. Still, it includes page breaks, which may not be desirable to you if you plan on using wide images and tables in your documents.

This is where the pageless format comes in handy. It turns the document into landscape orientation and does away with page breaks, resulting in a continuous document with no breaks that’s easy to read and print.

Follow these steps to go pageless:

  1. Open the document you want to turn pageless.
  2. Click on File > Page setup.
  3. Tap on the Pageless tab in the Page setup window.
    docs pageless option
  4. If you want to change the background color for the document, tap on the button below Background color and choose a color.
  5. Click on OK to turn your document pageless.

18. Compare Documents to See Changes and Identify Duplicates

If you work in Docs, there may be times when you may end up with more than one copy of a document in your account. Since this can lead to confusion, it’s best to compare these documents to identify the duplicate.

Docs lets you do this very easily, as shown below:

  1. Open one document and tap on Tools > Compare documents.
  2. On the Compare documents dialog box, click on the button below Select the comparison document and pick the document you want to compare.
  3. In the Attribute differences to field, identify the user whose name will appear in the output file as the author of the suggested edits.
    google docs document comparison
  4. Hit Compare.

Docs will now generate a new document showing all the changes between the two documents.

19. Smart Chips for Quickly Adding Elements to a Page

Smart Chips is a Docs feature that lets you use the @ character to insert elements to your document quickly. These elements can be anything from an image or table to people, headings, and building blocks (product roadmap, review tracker).

Follow these steps to add any of these elements to your document:

  1. Open the document where you want to insert any of these elements.
  2. Type @, and when it brings up the Smart Chips menu, select an element from the list to insert it into the document.
    docs smart chips
  3. Depending on the element you added, you can now fill it out with the appropriate information.

20. Dropdown Toggle to Provide Multiple Input Choices

A dropdown menu is an effective way of taking inputs from users. It ensures there are no incorrect or invalid entries due to human error. Not just that, but since a dropdown menu contains all its options within itself, you can add several of them without taking up much space.

Google Docs lets you add dropdown menus to your document with both preset and custom options. Here’s how to add them:

  1. Go to the document in which you want to add a dropdown menu.
  2. Click on Insert > Drop-down and select an option either under DOCUMENT DROP-DOWNS or PRESET DROP-DOWNS, depending on whether you want to use a preset or a custom dropdown menu.
    google docs dropdown menu
  3. In the case of a custom dropdown menu, you’ll get a dialog box on the next page where you can name this menu and add the menu options you wish to have in your dropdown. Hit Save to save this menu and add it to the document.

Get More Out of Google Docs

Google Docs is one of the most functional yet easy-to-use word processors out there. It allows you to create and work with a range of documents as well as gives you the ability to collaborate with others, all while being free.

We hope this guide familiarizes you with many valuable Google Docs features so you can start using them in your workflow and get the most out of it.

Further Reading:

FAQs About Google Docs Features

With Google Docs, you can open and save documents in a bunch of different formats: OpenDocument, Rich Text Format, Unicode, zipped HTML, and Microsoft Word. In addition, you also have multiple export options, such as PDF and EPUB.

PDF, short for Portable Document Format, is probably the best format to send documents. It's universally compatible, versatile, and accessible on a wide range of devices and services. Another major reason why PDF is preferred over other formats is reliability: a PDF will always display its data as it was written no matter which service you use to view it.

Lastly, a PDF document offers better security than other document formats since you can secure it using a password, which limits its access and ensures its data remains private.

There are many benefits of using Google Docs:

  1. Accessibility and collaboration
  2. Fully compatible with Microsoft Office
  3. Version control
  4. Flexibility to import and export in desired formats
  5. Easy to learn and use
  6. Automatic saving of documents
  7. Additional functionality using Chrome extensions
  8. FREE to use!

There are several benefits of Google Docs if you are a student:

  1. It's FREE to use!
  2. Documents are accessible from anywhere - home or school
  3. Version history helps with recovering unwanted deletions
  4. Automatic saving of documents
  5. Offline work mode
  6. Real-time collaboration with friends
  7. Voice-typing instead of writing
  8. More font styles than Microsoft Word which helps with project reports
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