Getting Started With Google Docs

Learn the basics and start using this popular online word processor

Google Docs, a part of the Google Drive suite of applications, is one of the most popular online word processing programs. Although its features can't compete with Microsoft Word, it is a simple and effective program. It is easy to upload Word documents from your computer to work on them in Google Docs. You can also download documents from the service or share them with others. These tips will get you up and going in Google Docs.

Working With Templates in Google Docs

Templates displayed at the top of the Google Docs home screen.

Templates are a great way to save time when you're creating new documents in Google Docs. Templates are professionally designed and contain formatting and boilerplate text. All you need to do is add your document content. You'll get great looking documents every time. Templates are visible at the top of the Google Docs screen. Select one, make your changes and save. A blank template is also available.

Uploading Word Documents to Google Docs

The New menu in Google Drive for creating or uploading documents in Google Docs.

You can create documents directly in Google Docs, but you'll probably also want to upload documents from your computer as well. Upload Microsoft Word files to share with others or to edit your documents on the go. Google Docs converts them for you automatically.

To upload Word documents:

  1. In Google Drive, click +New.
  2. Select File upload to upload a single document or Folder upload to upload an entire folder of documents.
  3. Navigate to the location where the document is stored, highlight it, and then click Open.
  4. The file is uploaded. You'll see an indicator in the bottom right corner of your Google Docs window that lets you know the status of the download.

Alternatively, you can upload documents for access through Google Docs using a drag and drop method:

  1. Go to Google Drive and click My Drive.
  2. Open the location of the file you want to upload in your file navigation pane. Don't open the document. 
  3. Click and drag the document to the My Drive screen.
  4. The file is uploaded. You'll see an indicator in the bottom right corner of your Google Docs window that lets you know the status of the download.

Once the file upload has completed, you can then open the file:

  1. Double-click on the document's thumbnail. This opens a preview where you can see the contents of the document. 
  2. At the top of the preview, click Open with Google Docs. Once you've opened the document with Google Docs, which effectively converts it to the Google Docs format, then you can edit or print as needed. Any changes you make to the document are saved automatically.

Sharing Word Processing Documents Via Google Docs

The location of the share button in Google Docs.

One of the best features of Google Docs is the ability to share your documents with others. You can grant them editing privileges, or limit others to only viewing your documents. Sharing your documents is a snap.

  1. Open the Google Docs document you want to share.
  2. Click the Share icon in the top, right corner of the screen.
  3. Enter the email addresses of people you want to share the document with in the text box provided.
  4. Click the pencil icon next to each name to open a  permissions menu that allows you to assign privileges to each person you share the document with. The options include: Can Edit, Can View, and Can Comment.
  5. Enter an optional note in the Add a note text box to accompany the link to the people you are sharing the document with.
  6. Click Send and an email is sent to the person or people you want to share with along with a link back to the document.

Alternatively, you can get a sharable link to email or send via direct message:

  1. Open the Google Docs document you want to share.
  2. Click the Share icon in the top, right corner of the screen.
  3. In the Share with others dialog box, select Get shareable link in the top right corner of the box. 
  4. A link appears, with a menu above it. Click the downward arrow next to Anyone with the link can view then you can change the permissions for anyone who has the link. Your options include: Anyone with the link can editAnyone with the link can comment, and Anyone with the link can view
  5. Select the desired permission and then click Copy link.
  6. Once you have the link, you can paste it into an email, message, or chat and anyone that can access that communication will have access to your document. 

Changing Default Formatting Options for Documents in Google Docs

The location of the Google Docs formatting and editing menus.

Like other word processing programs, Google Docs applies certain default formatting to the new documents that you create. This formatting may not appeal to you. You can change the formatting for entire documents or for individual elements using the formatting menu at the top of the screen.

You can also to enter editing mode for your document for your document by clicking the pencil icon on the far right of the formatting menu. When editing, you have three options:

  • Editing: Edit the document directly. This is the default mode, and the one you'll use most often when writing a document for the first time.
  • Suggesting: Suggestions become edits. If you're familiar with Microsoft Word, then is the equivalent to Track Changes. Edits that you or someone else make become suggestions and are color coded. They are not permanent until the suggested changes are accepted or rejected.
  • Viewing: Read or print your final document. This is the equivalent of the Reading Mode in Microsoft Word.

Downloading Files From Google Docs

The location of the Download As menu for Google Docs.

After you create a document in Google Docs, you may want to download it to your computer. That's no problem. Google Docs exports your documents for use in word processing programs like Microsoft Word and in other formats. From the open document screen:

  1. Select File from the menu at the top of the document you want to download.
  2. Select Download as.
  3. In the menu that appears, choose a format. Formats include:
    1. Microsoft Word (.docx)
    2. OpenDocument format (​.odt)
    3. Rich Text Format (​.rtf)
    4. PDF document (.pdf)
    5. Plain text (.txt)
    6. Webpage (.html, zipped)
    7. EPUB publication (.epub)
  4. The document is downloaded to your browser's default download location, so you may need to move it once the download is complete.

Note: If you download a document from Google Docs in Microsoft Word format, that has Suggesting comments (similar to Word's Track Changes), those comments and suggestions will appear in Microsoft Word as Markup. You may need to change your settings in the Review tab to show All Markup to see them.