What Is Google Docs?

A full review of Google Docs, a free online word processor

Google Docs example

Google Docs, a part of Google Drive, is the most popular and arguably the best free online word processor available.

Creating, uploading, saving, sharing, and collaborating on documents with Google Docs is easy, and they can be created and edited with a rather impressive selection of formatting options.

What We Like

  • Accepts most popular file formats.

  • Files can be downloaded in a variety of formats.

  • Documents are auto-saved to your Google account.

  • Has an uncluttered and simple interface.

  • Easy to share your documents or keep them private.

What We Don't Like

  • Only works as fast as your internet connection.

  • You must be logged on to use it.

  • Missing some advanced formatting and style options only found in a traditional word processor.

  • Uploading other document files sometimes results in missing or changed formatting.

A Quick Walkthrough

Google Docs is a simple web app in that the user interface is clean and all the tools have a useful purpose. However, it can be a little confusing if it's your first time using it since it's heavily integrated with Google Drive.

How to Upload Documents to Google Docs

Open Google Drive, select New, and and then choose either File upload or Folder upload, depending on what you're uploading.

Google Drive upload options

Now that the file is in Google Drive, you can import it into Google Docs by right-clicking it and going to Open with > Google Docs.

Open with Google Docs menu in Google Drive

How to Edit Google Docs Files

The menu at the top of Google Docs resembles the menu in other programs you might install on your computer, such as Microsoft Word or OpenOffice Writer. Here's what a few of those menus are responsible for:

  • File: Rename, share, download, print
  • Edit: Undo, redo, find and replace, paste
  • Insert: Add images, drawings, charts, tables, links, comments
  • Format: Format text and paragraph, edit line spacing, make lists
  • Tools: Word count, dictionary, voice typing, preferences

Just below the primary menu is the formatting menu. Some of the items on the Google Docs formatting menu are available in the menu above it, but this is how you'll usually format documents because they're just a click away.

Google Docs formatting menu

As you can see, the formatting bar lets you adjust the size and color of text, make indents, create bulleted or ordered lists, check spelling, and more.

How to Share From Google Docs

Google Docs has a few sharing options. One easy way to share a Google Docs document is through Gmail as a regular email message. Hit the Share button at the top right of the page and enter the email address of the person or people you want to share the document with.

You can also create a shared link that anyone (even non-Gmail users) can open to edit and/or view. From the Share button, select Get shareable link to produce a URL that anyone can access to view the document on their own computer (no email necessary). You can even change the can view option to the edit option so that they can make changes to the document with you.

Share with others prompt in Google Docs

Shared documents update in real time as anyone makes changes.

More Information on Google Docs

Here are some additional noteworthy features you can enjoy with the free Google Docs:

  • Documents in Google Docs can be started from scratch or from public templates.
  • Google Docs can open files from your computer and your Google Drive account, such as Microsoft Word's DOC, DOCX, DOCM, and DOTM files, as well as the popular HTML, RTF, and TXT formats.
  • Folders full of documents can be uploaded at once or you can choose single documents only.
  • While uploaded documents count toward the 15 GB storage space offered for free with Google Drive, any document created from scratch with Google Docs (or uploaded and converted to Google Docs' native format) doesn't count against this space.
  • Documents saved in Google Docs can be saved to your Google Drive account and used again in any browser, as well as downloaded offline in the DOCX, ODT, RTF, PDF, TXT, or EPUB format.
  • A full revision history shows changes made to a document, with each change marking who it was that did it, which is handy if you're working with multiple people.
  • The page color, paper size, orientation, and margins can all be customized.
  • Google Docs lets you type using your voice.
  • As with any good word processor, Google Docs has an Undo and Redo button to quickly correct any mistakes.
  • The Google Docs formatting options let you manipulate text with bold, italic, underline, strikethrough, superscript and subscript, alignment, varying font sizes, paragraph styles, line spacing, and more.
  • Images, hyperlinks, equations, drawings, tables, footnotes, special characters, page numbers, page breaks, headers/footers, and bookmarks can be inserted into a Google Docs document.
  • A built-in search tool lets you research without leaving Google Docs, like look up word definitions, find and import images, and use famous quotes in your document.
  • In just a couple clicks, documents can be copied and translated into dozens of languages.
  • Add-ons can be added to Google Docs to provide additional features.
  • Deleted documents are kept in the Trash section so you can easily restore them.
  • Documents can be printed directly from Google Docs as well as shared with the world through a public link and embedded in a website through the Publish to the web option.

Thoughts on Google Docs

There's not much about Google Docs that we don't like. Even though Microsoft Word still has its uses, if there are documents you're sharing for work or with family, or you don't want to pay for a word processor program, Google Docs is the way to go.

If you have a decent internet connection and don't have a great need for all the bells and whistles of a traditional word processing software, then save yourself hundreds of dollars and sign up for the free Google Docs.

If you already have a Gmail or YouTube account, you can log in to Google Docs with that same information since they're all Google products.

If you like Google Docs, we highly recommend checking out Google's other online tools, Google Slides and Google Sheets. There are also other free alternatives to Microsoft Office.