Google Docs is a free word processing program that does 99% of everything a writer will ever need to do–write, edit, rewrite, and re-edit. If you have a Gmail account, you have Google Docs. It is part of Google Drive which you access through the nine-dot array in the upper right corner. Or, through the link: http://drive.google.com.
Google Docs operates in the cloud so there are no download foibles, pesky maintenance, or expensive yearly upgrades. While it does have a moderate learning curve (no worse than MS Word), once traveled, writers quickly adopt it as their own and find many reasons why this becomes their favorite tool. The end result is a writing tool that is powerful, robust, scalable, and free.
Here are the top eleven reasons why you might agree, from the writers I talk to:
I’ve never had the experience of logging into Google Docs and having it not open. On the other hand, I have often experienced that heart-stopping occurrence with MS Word when a doc has become corrupted for no reason I can tell. Using Google Docs has probably added years to my life just in the lowered stress levels.
Because work is created and shared in the Cloud, users can access it from Internet-connected locations and devices by logging into their Google account. The latest version of their document is there, waiting. No worries about forgetting to save it to a flash drive or the email you sent to yourself didn’t arrive. This is great for writers who work on their manuscript at their job and home.
Google Docs automatically saves in the cloud as you work. There’s no need to Ctrl+S to save or scream when the power goes down and you haven’t saved for thirty minutes. Google takes care of that, auto-saving to their servers where you easily find all your work in one location.
Google makes it easy for groups to edit a document simultaneously. Up to fifty people can add comments, revise, and format at the same time. This is great for group writing projects and when you are making changes with your editor.
You can share the file to anyone (like your editor) with a Gmail address to be viewed only or edited. You can also share by embedding the document into a blog, wiki, or website where people can view or edit (depending upon the permissions you award). If you are a freelance journalist, this makes it easy to collaborate on a piece, share with others, and keep everyone up-to-date in a fluid environment.
Research options/reference tools
The Research functions activate in the right sidebar when you select ‘Research’ from the ‘Tools’ drop-down menu, click Ctrl+Alt+Shift+I, or simply right-click on the word you want to research. From this one location, you can search online for articles, images, or quotes. When you insert directly from the sidebar, it will automatically add a citation as a footnote, referencing where you found your data.
These are added automatically when you find information through the Research tool. This makes it easy to credit sources for non-fiction and freelance articles.
Google Docs automatically keeps track of all revisions made to a document by anyone involved in the edit/write process. You can find this option under File>See Revision History (or click Ctrl+Alt+Shift+H) and it comes up in the right sidebar. From there, you can review revisions and restore to a prior edition of your article or novel. To be fair, MS Word has this also, but I’ve found it glitchy at best. In fact, more often than not, I have no history to click back to. I think MS Word 2016 is much improved, but haven’t experienced it yet. Anyone know?
Great for writers workshops
There is no easier tool to use if you teach Writer’s Workshops. With Google Docs, participants write, peer edit, and work together seamlessly. They are productive, energized, and dynamic.
Lots of add-ons to personalize the experience
By partnering with third-parties, Google Docs is able to provide an impressive collection of enhancements, modifications, and extensions. You can find the entire list by clicking the Add-ons menu tab and selecting Get add-ons. To find what you’re looking for, you can search for a keyword, sort the add-ons into different categories, or simply browse. A few of my favorites are Thesaurus, EasyBib Bibliography Creator, Open Clipart, Flubaroo, Google Keep, and LucidCharts.
Works with MS Word
You can open MS Word documents in Google Docs to view (much as you view documents in cloud locations like Carbonite) or convert them to Google Docs to edit and share. Sure, there will be some changes, but not a lot (unless you’re an MS Word power user). You can also open Google Docs in MS Word.
If you have a Gmail account, you already have the Google Docs program. Simply click on the Omni box (the nine little dots in the upper right of your Gmail screen) and select ‘Google Drive’. Once you’re there, you’ll have the option for creating a New document, one of which is a Google Doc. Problems? Leave a comment below. I’ll see if I can help.
More on Google Drive Apps
Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-8 technology for 15 years. She is the editor/author of over a hundred tech ed resources including a K-8 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum. She is an adjunct professor in tech ed, CSG Master Teacher, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, CAEP reviewer, CSTA presentation reviewer, freelance journalist on tech ed topics, and a weekly contributor to TeachHUB. You can find her resources at Structured Learning.
I’m going to be honest… I hate Google Docs. With a passion that borders on unhealthy. Largely this is because the braintrust at Google has done everything in their power to make their tools work less well on browsers not named Chrome (this is true of the whole Google suite of office tools, as well as gmail, the chat tool (can’t remember what it’s called), etc.). And my personal opinion is that Chrome is just-this-side-of-malware, so I don’t allow it on my computers. But I digress.
More specifically and on topic, these tools do not work with my Windows Mobile devices. Like at all. I actually have trouble on full PCs, too, again likely because I don’t use Chrome. I don’t know if it is still true, but you couldn’t copy/paste properly in Google Docs with Internet Explorer or MS Edge… I had to use Firefox to get most functionality to work and even then I got messages saying I needed to go to Chrome to get the full set of functionality. I’ve also found the transition between Google Docs and Word to be a bit dodgy on the formatting side. Fonts seem to always come across wrong (either the wrong font or a slightly different sizing), and formatting like indents and line spacing seem to be weird at times, too.
In any event, there ARE good features in Google Docs. Most importantly, they’ve done a decent job with the collaborative features. The Office 365 online/local model is much improved over what it used to be, but Google’s collaboration tools are still a bit better.
I suppose, though, I’m a power user in Word. So maybe that’s the real issue for me. I see the value and benefit of the cloud-based tools like google docs, but I have lots of problems when it comes to Google’s lack of focus on privacy and the aforementioned tendency to limit functionality to their own browser.
Google Apps got a big push from education. I think that’s where their users come from because it’s so affordable for schools (as are Chromebooks). I still use MS Office–even signed up for an Office 365 account. My favorite Google App–which Office doesn’t come close to matching–is Google Forms. Love that!
I use google docs as one of my tools – especially when I am on the go and need to access the doc from many different computers. I have recommended it to many of my non-writer friends who only have a need for light document editing and don’t want to shell out money for MSWord.
I don’t do big projects in it, but blog posts, poems and other things often begin there before I bring them in to MSword.
The other cloud based tools I use a lot are storage – google drive and iCloud both of these let me have live backups of important docs and lets me access from what ever computer I am at. I will say that I rarely use mobile devices for writing as I need a full keyboard to type and my old eyes have trouble seeing those tiny cell phone screens.
You sound like you use it about like me. I also use Google Apps (like Docs) when I need to embed something. Google is much cleaner than Office.
Way over my pay grade here but sounds interesting. I just don’t use the kind of applications you’re describing. But I bet you just saved somebody’s life, Jacqui.
If you don’t like the high cost of Word, this is a great alternative. all free.
Google Docs has a lot to say for itself. I just wish it could save in .doc or .docx and had its own app for offline. Working on a project while online is just a little too public for me. Yes, it is quirky but that is how I am.
You can save as a docx, but it’s considered ‘downloading’. Just go to File>download and one of the options is MS Word.