If you’re like most people, you spend a lot of time in Google Docs. Maybe it’s your default word processor, or perhaps you still rely a lot on Microsoft Word. Either way, you no doubt spend enough time in Google Docs that it pays to go beyond the basics and know some of the best lesser-known features, tips, and tricks for getting the most out of this ubiquitous office productivity tool. Here are 11 of the best “secret” features for doing more with Google Docs.
Dictate with your voice
Voice dictation isn’t yet 100% accurate, but it’s still a convenient way to create a document using just your voice. Google Docs supports voice dictation. To do it, just choose Tools, then Voice typing. You might need to give Google Docs permission to use your microphone, but after that a Click to speak button will appear on screen (you can drag it around if it’s in the way). Click, dictate, and click again when you are done.
Crop and edit images in a document
When you add an image to a Google Doc, you can continue to edit it. Click the image in your Google doc, and new tools should appear in the toolbar at the top of the screen. You can add a border around the image and give it a color, crop the image and, using the Image options button, change its alignment.
Translate your document to another language
Google Docs’ translation tool lets you convert an entire document into any one of over 100 foreign languages almost instantly, like magic. Click Tools, Translate document, and then pick the language you want to convert it to. Click Translate, and it’ll create a new document for you — it doesn’t change your original doc.
Turn on an automatic word count display
Microsoft Word gives you a real-time word count in the status bar at the bottom of the screen; Google Docs does not. But you can enable an automatic word counter if you need it. To turn it on, click Tools, then Word count. In the Word count pop-up, click the checkbox for Display word count while typing and then click OK.
Bookmark sections of your document
You can bookmark sections within a Google Doc and then link to them from elsewhere in the doc. It’s handy for setting up an interactive table of contents, for example, or just linking to another part of the document as a reference.
To do that, select the text you want to bookmark and then choose Insert, followed by Bookmark. Then select the text that you want to hyperlink to the bookmark. Click Insert link in the toolbar and click Headings and bookmarks. Find the bookmark you just created and select it.
Templates are hiding in plain sight
It’s easy to ignore on the Google Docs home page, but the top of the screen has a row of handy templates in Google’s Template gallery. You can click Template gallery to see an expanded list of options and click one you like to start working in it. Many templates come with graphics, formatting, and sample text to show you how the layout looks when complete.
Create custom shortcuts
Are there common phrases that are specific to your professional domain that you find yourself typing frequently? You can make custom shortcuts in Google Docs and trigger them with a shorthand abbreviation.
Click Tools, then Preferences. In the Preferences pop-up, click the Substitutions tab at the top. Now type the full phrase you want to enter in the With field, and the shortcut you want to trigger in the Replace field. Make sure you create a shortcut you won’t trip by accident. When you’re done, click OK.
Compare two documents
If you’ve ever used the Compare feature in Microsoft Word to see the changes in two versions of a document side-by-side, you know how powerful this is to resolve issues when two or more people make changes to their own local versions of a document.
You can do the same thing in Google Docs. Open one version of the document in Google Docs and then choose Tools, followed by Compare Documents. Select the second document and then click Compare. It’s not quite as sophisticated as the blackline comparison you get in Word, but it is very useful nonetheless.
Paste without formatting
Here’s a small feature, but one that becomes indispensable when you know about it. When you paste text into a doc from another source, you can choose Paste without formatting, which drops the content in using the default formatting of your document. That way you don’t get a document with crazy unexpected formatting that it takes several minutes to fix. You can also use a keyboard shortcut, Command+Shift+V on Mac and Ctrl+Shift+V on Windows, to quickly paste without formatting.
Quickly add a header or a footer
You can add headers and footers to your Google Doc files, and even create a different header and footer on the first page of the document.
To create a header, double click at the top of a page. You’ll see the header region appear, and you can simply start typing to create your header. For more customization, click Options and choose the setting you want to change. For footers, do the same thing at the bottom of the page.
Generate a document outline and summary
If you have created a Google Doc that includes hierarchical formatting, such as different heading levels, you can generate an automatic outline that lives in a sidebar to the left of the document. Choose View, then Show outline. From the View menu, you can also generate an automated summary for documents of a certain length.