What Is Google Docs?

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

Google Docs, a part of Google Drive, and 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 you can create and edit 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 Google Docs since it's heavily integrated with Google Drive.

How to Upload Documents to Google Docs

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

Google Drive upload options with "File Upload" and "Folder Upload "highlighted

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 computers, 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. Select 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. Add a message, and select whether you want to person to have editing, viewing, or commenting privileges.

You can also create a shared link that anyone (even non-Gmail users) can open to edit or view. From the Share button, in the Get Link box, select Copy Link. Choose whether you want the link's recipients to have editing, viewing, or commenting privileges. Paste the link into an email to share with others.

Google Docs Get Link box with Copy Link and sharing options highlighted

Shared documents update in real-time as anyone makes changes.

The Google Docs Show Editors tool is a handy way to keep track of your collaborators' changes. Highlight a range of text, right-click, and select Show Editors. You'll see who's been editing the document along with their latest changes and a timestamp.

Google Docs and Google Workspace

Google Docs is also part of Google Workspace, which is a framework that combines apps, email, cloud storage, productivity software, calendars, and more.

In addition to Google Docs, Google Workspace includes Google's other apps and services, including Gmail, Calendar, Drive, Sheets, Slides, Meet, and more. While you can still use Docs and the other tools as stand-alone apps, they're more fully integrated when used as part of Google Workspace.

When you're using Google Workspace, if you are collaborating on a Google Doc, you and other users can open it right from Gmail after it's shared in a Google Chat Room.

Workspace is available for free to anyone with a Google account, but if you're looking for more advanced Workspace features, such as extra cloud storage, custom email, and advanced security features, consider a paid Workspace subscription.

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.
  • Your Google account comes with a free 1TB storage allotment, but this storage space isn't just for Docs. Your Google Photos, Gmail, and all your Docs, Sheets, Slides, Drawings, Forms, and Jamboard files count toward this total. If you need more, it's easy to buy more storage from Google.
  • 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.

Other Noteworthy Features

  • 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 of 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.
  • The Office Editing for Docs, Sheets & Slides is a browser extension for Google's own Chrome web browser that lets you open and edit online documents without having to download them to your computer first, and then upload them to Google Docs. It's also a quick way to edit the document files on your computer by just dragging them into the Chrome browser.

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.

  • Is Google Docs reliable?

    While Google Docs suffered a partial outage in April 2021, it's usually pretty reliable. But, its reliability also depends on your internet connection. Therefore, it's always a good idea to back up your work so you can access it offline if needed.

  • How do you draw on Google Docs?

    To insert a drawing into a document, select Insert > Drawing > + New. The Drawing Window opens up with a bunch of options. For example, you can insert word art or use the Line and Shape tools to create squares, circles, etc.

  • How do you strikethrough text on Google Docs?

    Highlight the text you want to strikethrough, select Format > Text > Strikethrough, or use the keyboard shortcut Alt+Shift+5.

  • How do you check word count in Google Docs?

    Select Tools > Word Count or use the keyboard shortcut CTRL+SHIFT+C.

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