Eight Advanced Google Docs Features You Should Be Using


Beneath their surfaces, word processors like Google Docs have a treasure trove of hidden features that make it easier to draft large documents and collaborate on them with coworkers. I have covered a few Google Docs tips before, but now I have a few more to share.

1. Write in Markdown in Google Docs

Markdown setting in Google Docs

Credit: Saikat Basu

Google Docs supports some of the Markdown syntax. This offers a simple way to format documents using plain text symbols, making them easy to read and write while allowing for conversion into richer formats. If you are proficient with Markdown, it can help you draft documents faster, quickly formatting your text with italics, bold, strikethrough, and links. To enable it, go to Tools > Preferences > Automatically detect Markdown.

But do remember: Google Docs supports a limited subset of Markdown syntax, not all of it.

2. Improve navigation with line numbers

Line numbers in a Google Docs document

Credit: Saikat Basu

With the help of the humble line number, you and your collaborators can easily reference and pinpoint exact locations in complex and long documents. They can also help you take precise notes as you can connect them to the line numbers. But note that line numbers work only in the Pages format and not in the Pageless view.

Enable them by going to Tools > Line numbers. In the line numbers sidebar, select Show line numbers.

3. Use alt text to make docs more accessible

Alternative text for images in Google Docs

Credit: Saikat Basu

Images help your doc, but they can’t be “seen” by screen readers. Adding alt text to your images helps people using screen readers understand what the image depicts.

To add alt text, right-click on an image and select Alt Text. In the Image options sidebar, describe the image in short. Don’t include “image of” or “picture of,” just focus on the information the image shows.

4. Use the Translate Document feature to practice reading and writing in another language

Translating a document in Google Docs

Credit: Saikat Basu

Google Docs won’t replace a language learning course anytime soon, but it uses the same Google Translate wizardry to translate a document into any language. You can share translated documents with collaborators and use them to practice writing in a foreign language.

Open your document. Go to Tools > Translate document. In the overlay window, choose your language, and Google Docs will create a copy in the foreign language.

Remember, you can also use Google Sheets to translate languages.

5. Force the receiver to make a copy of the Google Doc

Sharing settings in Google Docs

Credit: Saikat Basu

You may come across instances when you want to share a document but want the collaborator to make edits in their own copy of the original. Docs doesn’t have an official method to force a copy, but there’s a neat little unofficial hack that works.

Click on Share on the top right of the document. Change the link settings to Anyone with the link and choose Editor from the dropdown next to it. Now, copy the link and paste it into the email or messenger you are using to share the document. Before hitting send, edit the end of the link by replacing the word “edit” and everything after it with template/preview.

When the receiver opens the document to edit it, it will be their own copy. The “template/preview” URL suffix allows them to view the document contents before they start editing them (select the Use Template button in the preview).

6. Embed a doc in an email

Embed a doc in an email

Credit: Saikat Basu

You don’t need to send a long document to a collaborator as an attachment. Email it directly from Google Docs to the receiver’s inbox as an embedded document. This makes sharing documents easier and cuts down the number of attachments everyone has to trawl through.

Go to File > Email > Email this file. Write a message in the field provided. Then, select the checkbox for Don’t attach. Include content in the email.

7. Brainstorm with Google Keep

Google Keep in Google Docs sidebar

Credit: Saikat Basu

When combined with the long-form writing in Google Docs, the minimal Google Keep (Google’s free, digital notepad app for capturing thoughts, lists, and reminders) can be a handy brainstorming aid.

Capture fleeting ideas as notes or lists. When you need those ideas in your Doc, open the Keep side panel (the yellow light bulb icon on the right) and drag and drop your notes directly into your document. You can also copy text from your Doc and save it as a Keep note for easy access later.

8. Collaborate on an email

An email building block in Google Docs

Credit: Saikat Basu

Gmail offers collaborative inboxes to Google Workspace accounts, but there’s another way to collaborate on an email for free that uses Google Docs. In a Google Doc, insert an email building block from Insert > Building blocks > Email draft. Alternatively, type “@email” in the doc and press Enter. You can also go to File > Email draft.

Write the email and fill out the fields. Then, click Preview in Gmail at the top left of the draft. When you’re done, hit Send.

The trove of features and tips doesn’t end here. The Google Drive suite is more versatile than ever before, and you can always find different ways of working with Google Docs that fit your specific needs.


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