Google Docs

One part of the Google Docs suite is the word processing application. The Google Docs word processor, Google Documents, is a web based program that has many of the most common features of other programs such as Microsoft Word. However, it also has the ability to easily share and collaborate on documents with others.

Table of Contents:

How to access Google Documents

Google Documents is part of Google Drive which you can access in several ways:app-launcher.png

  • From Google services – If you are already logged into your Google account, you will have an App Launcher button in the top right corner of most of your Google-related websites. You can click the App Launcher button to see a list of Google services, and can choose Drive.
  • Web address – Or you can just type in the direct address:

How to create a new document

Once you are in Google Drive you can create a new word processing document as follows:

  • Click the Create button in the top left corner
  • Then click Document from the drop-down menu
  • Your blank document will now open. You can give it a name by clicking in the Untitled Document box at the top left, and then typing in your title. You can click there again to change the title at any time.
  • Google Docs automatically saves your document after any changes you make.

How to import and convert an existing document

Instead of starting from scratch, you can also take existing documents that you have made in other programs, such as Microsoft Word, and can import and convert them into Google Docs format. Once converted into Google Docs format, you can edit and share the document.upload-files.png

  1. From the main Google Docs screen, click the Upload… button next to the Create button in the top left corner, and then choose Files… from the drop-down menu.
  2. Browse to locate the file you wish to upload and click Open
    Note: For word processing documents, you can upload and convert the following file types: .doc, .docx, .html, plain text (.txt), .rtf, .odt
  3. This will now open the Upload settings window.


  1. To convert the document into Google Docs format, check the box for Convert documents, presentations, spreadsheets, and drawings to the corresponding Google Docs format. If you uncheck this box, the file will be stored, but you will not be able to edit it.
  2. If the original document is a PDF or a scanned image of a file, you can check the box for Convert text from PDF and image files to Google documents and Google will attempt to convert the file into a Google Document using OCR (optical character recognition)
  3. Finally click Start upload to import and convert the file.

Note: Depending upon how advanced your original document is, the converted version may lose some of its formatting, and you may have to adjust margins and such.

How to export your document

Although Google keeps your documents safe on their servers, there may be times when you want to save a copy of a document to your local computer. For example, you may want to give a copy to a person who does not have Internet access to get to your Google Document. You can export your documents as follows:

  1. Open the document as usual in Google Docs
  2. Click File in the top menu bar
  3. Hover your mouse over the Download as link in the drop-down menu
  4. Choose the format you want to save your document as. For word processing documents your choices include Microsoft Word (.docx), Open Document Format (.odt), Rich Text Format (.rtf), PDF Document (.pdf), Plain Text (.txt), Web Page (.html).
  5. Your file will now download to your computer

How to format text in Google Docs

Just like a traditional word processor, you can format content in Google Docs in many ways. These options are available either on the toolbar or in the “Format” menu (or both).

Here you will find such formatting options as font face, font size, bold, italic, underline, text color, text background color, numbering, bullets, indenting, alignment, line spacing, and more. You can always clear any formatting by selecting the text, clicking “Format”, and then choosing “Clear formatting”

Note: If you would like add more fonts to your document you can do so as follows:

  1. Click the font face menu item in the formatting toolbar.
  2. From the drop-down menu, click “Add Fonts” at the very bottom.
  3. This will open a window where you can browse through hundreds of fonts.
  4. Click on the fonts you wish to add and then click “OK”.
  5. Those fonts will now be added to your font list and available for use.

How to format page layout options

You can format several page layout options including margins, orientation, size, and such

  • Click “File” and then “Page setup…”
  • For “Orientation” you can choose “Portrait” or “Landscape”
  • For “Paper Size” you can pick “Letter”, “Legal”, and many other common sizes
  • For “Margins” you can set the default margins for each edge of the page
  • You can also choose the “Page Color” for the document
  • Click “OK” when done

You can also insert page breaks by clicking “Insert” in the top menu, and then choosing “Page break”.

How to insert pictures

You can insert pictures into Google Documents if they are in the following common formats: .gif, .jpg, or .png. You can insert pictures in several different ways.

First, click Insert in the top menu bar, and choose Image from the drop down menu. This will open the Insert Image window where you will have the choices below:

  • Upload – You can browse your hard drive or network drive to locate and upload an image.
  • Take a snapshot – If you have a webcam, you can take a picture and insert that.
  • By Url – You can paste the web address of an image that is already online.
  • Your albums – If you save pictures in Picasa Web Albums or Google+ Photos, you can browse through your albums and insert any image.
  • Google Drive – If you have saved images to your Google Drive, you can browse through those and insert any image.
  • Search – You can search for image from several online sources:
    • Google – A search of Google Images for public-domain pictures
    • Life – Pictures from Life Magazine
    • Stock Images – These are high quality clipart images

Note: You can also create your own picture using the Google Docs Drawing tool. This may be good for diagrams, charts, geometry problems, and such.

  1. Click on the page where you want to image to go.
  2. Click Insert in the menu bar
  3. Click Drawing… from the drop down menu
  4. This will open the drawing window where you can create your image
  5. When you are finished making your picture, click Save and Close to return to your Google Document and have the image inserted.

Also, if you are searching for images, there are many excellent resources online. Here are some good options:

How to edit images in Google Docs

Once you have inserted an image into your Google Document, you can edit it in several ways:


  • Inline position – If you click on the image and choose In line the picture will stay with the text around it and words will not wrap around it.
  • Fixed position – If you click on the image and choose Wrap text the picture will be free to move wherever you drag it and text will wrap around it.
  • Image size – If you click on the image, you can then click and drag any of the handles (little boxes) on the sides and corners of the picture to resize it.

How to work with tables

You can insert and edit tables in Google Docs. This can be used to create a grid chart (such as a time schedule) or just to organize your text on the page.

How to insert a table

  1. To insert a table click the Table menu option in the toolbar
  2. Hover your mouse over Insert table
  3. Drag your mouse over the pop-up table menu to set the number of columns and rows (you can always add or remove columns and rows later)
  4. Click when you have the size you want and the table will be inserted

How to add and remove table elements

  • You can add and remove parts to the table by right-clicking on the part of the table you wish to change
  • You can insert a table element by choosing Insert row above, Insert row below, Insert column left, or Insert column right.
  • You can delete table elements by choosing Delete row, Delete column, or Delete table

How to modify table properties

  • Right-click on the table and choose Table properties…
  • In the Table tab you can set the Border width and the Border color of the table (setting the color to white is a good way to make the table borders invisible)
  • In the Row tab you can Set minimum height of the row
  • In the Column tab you can Set width of the column
  • In the Cell tab you can set the cell Background color, the Vertical alignment of the text in the cell, and the cell Padding (space between the cell border and the text inside)

Note: You can also change row and column sizes by clicking and dragging the table border lines with your mouse.

Table Example:

Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri
Per 1 Open Closed Open Closed Open
Per 2 Open Open Open Closed Open
Per 3 Closed Closed Closed Open Open

How to insert special characters

Sometimes you may need to insert special characters that are not on your keyboard. This could include symbols (↕ £ ♡) and world languages characters (à ñ). Here is how:

  1. Click Insert in the top menu bar
  2. Choose Special Characters from the drop-down menu
  3. Choose the category and subcategory you want until you find the special character you need
  4. Select the character and click OK to insert it

How to insert mathematical equations

Google Docs has an equation editor tool that let’s you create mathematical equations that otherwise would not be able to be typed. This is especially useful for math tests and worksheets.

  1. Click Insert in the top menu bar
  2. Then click Equation…
  3. You will now see the equation toolbar. You can pick the mathematical symbol you want to add from five menus:
    • Greek letters
    • General operators
    • Comparison and inclusion operators
    • Operators with variables
    • Arrows
  4. Continue adding symbols and numbers as needed to build the equation you want
  5. Later you can always edit the existing equation by clicking on it
  6. Note: If you want the equation toolbar to always stay open, click View then Show equation toolbar

How to insert headers and footers

You can insert a header and/or footer to appear on each page.

  1. Click Insert in the top menu bar
  2. Click Header or Footer
  3. Your header edit area will appear at the top of your pages, and your footer edit area will appear at the bottom of your pages
  4. Type in whatever text you want in the header and footer edit areas
  5. When done, just click anywhere in the main part of your document
  6. To edit or delete the header or footer, just click back in the header or footer area and make the desired changes

How to add comments

Google Docs allows you to add comments to the side of a document. This is a useful way to share ideas with other collaborators, or to give feedback to a student on a document you are grading.

  1. To insert a comment, click in the document or select the words where you want the comment to be linked
  2. Next click Insert in the top menu bar, then click Comment (you can also press Ctrl – Alt – M on your keyboard if you prefer)
  3. A comment box will appear to the right of the document, where you can type in your comment
  4. This comment will now be visible to others who share the document (such as your collaborators or the student who turned in the assignment) although the comment(s) will not display when the document is printed.
  5. Collaborators (students, you, etc.) can reply to any comment by typing in the box labeled Reply to this comment…
  6. You can also click the links to Edit your existing comment, or to Delete it.
  7. Finally you can click Resolve to close the comment from further replies.

How to share documents

One of the best features of Google Docs is the ability to share documents with others. You can let them just view the document, or you can give them the ability to edit it as well. There are several ways to share a document, but we will look at the two most common: sharing as a link, and sharing with specific people.

Share as a link

  1. Click the Share button  in the top right corner and this will open the Sharing settings window
  2. At the top you will see Private – Only the people listed below can access
  3. Click the Change link next to that line and a new window will open up where you can change the privacy settings
  4. Here you can change the visibility of your document by making it Public on the web or only viewable by users at your school/organization or keep it Private just for you.
  5. If you also want to let people edit the document (not just view) then you need to change the Access from Can View to Can Edit
  6. Click Save when done
  7. You will now return to the Sharing settings window but now you will have a link for the document that you can copy and share with others through email, posting online, as a QR Code, or such.
  8. If you need to make any changes to sharing, you can repeat the process above and choose different settings at any time

Share with specific people

  1. Click the Share button  in the top right corner and this will open the Sharing settings window
  2. At the bottom of the window there will be a box labeled Add people:
  3. Click in that box and type in the people or groups that you want to share the document with. The address book will find matches based on what you type.
  4. Next click the Can edit button to pick whether the users can edit or only view the document
  5. Optionally click in the personal message box to include directions or additional information for the recipients
  6. Finally, click the Share button
  7. All of the recipients will now get an email message indicating that the document has been shared with them
  8. The document will also automatically show up in their Google Docs list of documents
  9. In the future you can always return to the Sharing settings window to change or remove people
  10. Next to each users name will be a drop-down menu to switch between Can edit and Can view
  11. Also there will be an X that you can click to remove that person’s access entirely

How to view document revisions

When you share editing abilities with several people, it may be helpful to see who made what changes and when. Google Docs allows you to see the full revision history for a document and revert back to any earlier version if needed.

  1. Click File and then See revision history
  2. This will open a side bar on the right side of the screen where a history of changes will be listed by user
  3. If you click on any time stamp on the right, the document will show what changes were made, highlighting the changes by color based on the user
  4. If you want to go back to an earlier version of the document, click Restore this revision on the time stamp for the version you want
  5. If you need to see smaller, more detailed changes, you can click the button at the bottom that says Show more detailed revisions
  6. To exit the revision history mode, just click the X next to Document history at the top of the side bar


This document by Eric Curts is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial 3.0 United States license. For more information about this license see