It's fair to say that Google Docs has taken big slices out of the market that Microsoft Office used to utterly dominate. For one, Google Docs is free. But it's a polished product in its own right, with a streamlined and intuitive interface, solid collaboration tools and a presence in the cloud that lets you access Google Docs within a web browser from almost any phone, tablet or PC that has an internet connection.
That said, word processors inevitably add more features over time, and even Google Docs can get complex enough that you may not see the full extent of its capabilities, even if you're a daily user. You may also not be aware of how the app can be extended to do what wasn't possible before.
Let's show you five things that the desktop web browser version of Google Docs can do to improve your word processing chops.
Important add-ons to make Docs more like Microsoft Word
While fewer buttons and menus can make an app less intimidating to learn, it can also reduce functionality. Compared to Microsoft Word, Google Docs is practically Spartan. However, if you're missing a feature from Word that you'd like to use in Google Docs, you might not be out of luck.
It turns out that Google Docs has its own marketplace of free add-ons, and you access it in the desktop web browser version of Docs by clicking the Add-Ons menu, then Get Add-Ons. When you open this, you can search according to the function you want, and you can click the drop-down menu to the left if you want to browse different add-on categories.
(Note: If this is a G Suite account, you may have a category that's specific to add-ons provided by your employer.)
Out of the box, Google Docs lacks the ability to change text to sentence case and to alphabetically sort a list. (You can switch to some cases by clicking Format > Text > Capitalization, but not all of them). Thanks to Docs' add-on system, though, we're not out of luck.
Just open the add-on store from the Add-Ons menu and search for change case, which leads us to the aptly named Change Case add-on. Click the button labeled "Free" to add it to Google Docs.
To add the ability to alphabetize a list, we go back to the add-on store and search for alphabetical, which brings us to the Sorted Paragraphs add-on.
Both add-ons are free. Users appear to be able to install as many add-ons as they may need, so we'd recommend checking out the add-on store if you haven't already.
Understanding the keyboard shortcuts that can accelerate your writing
Pretty much every word processing action other than actually typing text has a keyboard shortcut in Google Docs. Most of them are visible as tooltips when you hover your mouse pointer over a specific button or menu action, like Print (Ctrl+P) or Insert Comment (Ctrl+Alt+M).
There's even a keyboard shortcut to view your keyboard shortcuts: Ctrl+/. It will show you this:
What you may not be aware of is that some shortcuts diverge according to what web browser you're using to access the web app version of Google Docs. Specifically, Google Chrome (download for iOS or Android) has its own shortcuts to access every menu at the top of the screen. For example, Chrome can open the File menu by pressing Alt+F, while other browsers have to use Alt+Shift+F.
At the same time, Google Docs can also override your browser's built-in keyboard shortcuts that are dedicated to other actions. For example, highlighting text in Google Docs and pressing Ctrl+K will open up the dialog that lets you put a hyperlink there.
Outside of Google Docs, Ctrl+K activates the search box in Mozilla Firefox, and it moves your cursor to the address bar in Chrome. So be aware that certain browser commands may be unavailable when Google Docs is open in your active tab.
At the same time, Docs may also accommodate standard shortcuts that it doesn't put on its official list. For example, Google lists Ctrl+Shift+Z as the command to redo an action, but the customary Ctrl+Y works just as well, in our experience.
Voice dictation when you can speak faster than you can type
If you write a lot over the course of the day, fully formed sentences may sometimes pop into your head, and you need to take a few moments to type them out before you can think about what you'll write next. In these situations, using voice dictation can allow you to enter that text as fast as you can speak the sentence, which is a lot faster than most people can type.
So if your device has an available microphone, you can press Ctrl+Shift+S to activate "Voice Typing" mode and dictate whole trains of thought as they occur to you. This mode makes a microphone button pop up, and you click it to begin, then click a second time when you're done (to avoid processing audio other than your dictation).
Note that the Voice Typing option may be grayed out in the Tools menu, in which case you may need to adjust your browser's security settings to allow microphone access. In our experience, the Chrome browser tends to work with Voice Typing right away, while Firefox users may need to experiment with their browser settings related to microphone access.
Using the version history tool to recover previous drafts
Ctrl+Z will undo your recent actions, but this basic clipboard tool doesn't have anything on the Version History feature, where entire earlier drafts can be resurrected, and everyone's changes can be tracked. It's available at any time by pressing Ctrl+Alt+Shift+H (and you can exit this mode by pressing the Escape key or clicking on the back button in the upper left).
Here, all previous versions of your Google Docs file appear in a list in the right-hand pane, and each version has a three-dot menu that lets you save that version as a separate file. And each version can also be given unique names to help distinguish them.
Because of Version History, pretty much everything that you type into a Google Docs document can probably be recovered (and the files themselves are stored in the cloud, further reinforcing your work against undesirable or unexpected outcomes).
Installing a dark mode browser add-on to reduce eye strain at night
This item isn't specific to Google Docs, so we're putting it in last -- but not least. In the winter months when nights are long (like right now), you may spend a lot of time in front of a potentially brightly lit PC screen, which can cause eye strain if the room you're in is otherwise dark. In this situation, a web browser add-on that forces a "dark mode" may be beneficial.
For Firefox, the Dark Background and Light Text add-on has been a go-to. It can be customized on a per-site basis, and it offers multiple dark mode implementations if the default mode produces visual errors. Google Docs itself is one example of a site that needs an alternate mode; the default mode hides the cursor, which can make it difficult to type.
To get the cursor back, we click the "A" button in the upper right of the browser, click Invert and then reload the page. It will make your Google account profile picture look a little funny, because all of its colors will be reversed, but you'll get your cursor back.
(Protip: The Android version of Firefox can also use some of the desktop version's add-ons, including Dark Background and Light Text.)
For Google Chrome, Dark Reader has been a favorite. It has a nicer looking menu than Dark Background and Light Text, and the sliders give you the opportunity to make granular adjustments.
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