15 years of Google Doc: Discover the 15 best features of the app

15 years of Google Doc: Discover the 15 best features of the app

Google Docs has turned 15, since the app officially launched in October 2006, built on concepts initially implemented by the team behind Writely, which Google acquired.

At the time, the real innovation of the app was editing documents from multiple people in a working browser. Years later, collaboration remains a core strength of Google Docs.

Over the years, the branding around Google Docs has changed. It is part of Google Apps for your domain, Google Apps for Work and later, Google Apps (minus modifiers). It was a part of G Suite for a while. Starting in late 2021, Google Docs serves alongside other collaborative editors, such as Google Sheets and Google Slides, as a core component of Google Workspace.

To acknowledge Google Docs’ 15-year longevity, I’m highlighting 15 key aspects of the app. Many of these you may be familiar with, but hopefully you will find some new features as well.

1. Quickly create a new document

In your browser, type doc.new, then hit Enter to create a new Google Doc. That eight-key sequence quickly moves you from navigating to editing.

2. Speak to type

Select Tools | Voice typing to activate voice detection ( Figure A ) which transforms spoken words into typed text in your document when using the Chrome browser. Say punctuation (for example, say “comma” to add, symbol or “question mark” to add a?), Add paragraphs (for example, “new paragraph”), select text (for example “select paragraph”) and add formatting (for example, say “bold”).

Figure A

Google Docs screenshot in Chrome, with voice typing active: A red microphone icon to the left of Google Doc, with "Voice typing allows you to enter text by speaking".  in the document.

Select Tools | Voice typing to access features that convert your speech into text.

3. Discuss and edit

Select some text, choose Insert | Comment, then add your input. The comment system provides a way to discuss the text of the document without changes. Alternatively, if you have the appropriate permission, switch to suggestion mode to enter proposed changes or use edit mode to make updates.

4. Access the document history

See changes to your Google Doc over time. Use file | Version history | Current version name to keep a named version of the document at the current time. Or access both named and autosaved versions of your document (as shown in Figure B ) with File | Version history | See Version history.

Figure B

Screenshot of my article, showing my initial list of 15 features, with the changes made to items 3 (Comments changed to Feedback) and 4 (Tips deleted and replaced by Microsoft Word file format change).

Review changes to your Google Doc with version history.

5. Edit the Microsoft Word files

Early editions of Google Docs converted files from Microsoft Word into the Google Docs editor, which also allowed collaborative editing. Now you can open a Microsoft Word file (e.g. .docx) in Google Docs and edit it directly, without the need for conversion. All the collaborative features of Docs remain available when you edit a .docx file in its native format.

6. Select highly legible fonts

Since Google Docs allows you to select from a long list of fonts, you can choose options other than the default size 11 Arial font. For readability and readability, I encourage you to consider Atkinson Hyperlegible or one of the many supported Lexend fonts. These fonts try to make the text more readable and readable for everyone.

7. Type @ to add smart chips

Type the @ key in a Google doc to see a dynamic list of people, places, files, dates, or groups. Select one of the displayed items to create what Google calls a smart chip. Each smart chip injects a bit of web-connected magic into your document – additional information about a person or a real-time link to a Drive file or calendar event. More interesting, a new template of @Meeting notes ( Figure C ) adds formatting to the document and inserts smart chips for each Google Calendar invitee along with a smart chip linked to the Calendar event.

Figure C

Screenshot of an @Meeting notes document, with a date chip (October 15, 2021), an event title chip (sample event), and the list of attendees (three of the author's accounts, in this case of example).

Type the @ key to view a dynamic list of smart chips. The @Meeting Note option draws from Google Calendar to add smart chips that connect to your event, date, and attendees in a template.

8. Check your spelling and grammar

If you haven’t already, select Tools | Spelling and grammar, then make sure there are check marks next to Show spelling suggestions and Show grammar suggestions. These two characteristics highlight both relatively simple errors and more difficult to detect problems.

9. Compare two documents

Google Docs can quickly highlight the differences between two Google Docs. To compare your current document with another, choose Tools | Compare Docs, select another Google Doc, change the name of the person to attribute the differences to (if necessary), then Compare. A prompt will appear to open a newly created third document with the differences highlighted.

10. Expand functionality with add-ons

There is a thriving third-party ecosystem ( Figure D ) hidden behind add-ons | Get the add-ons menu option. Insert math equations, all kinds of graphs or even musical notations into a Google doc. Other add-ons help you simplify signing, organize quotes, manage merges, and print envelopes and labels.

Figure D

Google Workspace Marketplace Screenshot: Works with Docs which appears after selecting Get Add-ons.  Items listed include: MathType, Lucidchart Diagrams, Doc To Form, Easy Bib, Turnitin Draft Coach, Hypatia Create, Easy Accents - Docs and Kaizena.

Explore add-ons | Get add-ons to find third-party apps that add functionality to Google Docs.

11. Convert your document into different formats

Go to file | Download as… and then choose a file format to export your Google Doc to. Starting October 2021, your document can be downloaded as a .docx, .odt, .rtf, .pdf, .txt, .epub, or compressed .html file.

12. Publish on the web

You can also turn a Google Doc into a published web document, available to anyone with Internet access: File | Publish to the web. This is different from using the Share button to create a link, even if you change the permissions on that link to make sure your document is available to everyone on the web. The Publish option puts your document online without the link. Google Docs editing interface, although a “Published using Google Docs” warning appears at the top of the page.

13. Translate into another language

Do you need your text in another language? Test Tools | Translate Document, then choose a language from the list. You will receive another document with your text in the selected language. For standard and non-critical business communication, the results will likely perform well without further revisions. When it comes to legal documents, literary or poetic language, or sensitive topics, I recommend working with a human translator to review the results.

14. View the document activity

In an organization, the activity dashboard helps you know if (and when) your colleagues have accessed a document ( Figure E ). Such information can affect the content you talk about when you meet or push you to postpone the meeting until people have had time to join.

Figure E

Activity dashboard screenshot for a sample doc, showing that three out of four people accessed the Google Doc (October 5, August 20, and August 6), with one person reported as never having viewed it.

In an organization, check the activity dashboard to see if (and when) coworkers accessed your Google Doc.

15. Edit everywhere

Finally, while Google Docs offers the most complete experience in a desktop-class browser (Chrome, for example), mobile apps for Android and iOS (and iPadOS) let you view, edit, and collaborate on Docs from phones and tablets, as well. And, whether you’re working in a browser or mobile device, if you happen to go offline, the changes you make can be synced the next time you connect to the internet.

What 15 aspects of Google Docs do you like?

Are there any key Google Docs features you use that I missed?

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