Tips and Tricks: Making the Most of Google Docs


I’ve been using Google Docs for a couple of years now, for both professional and personal tasks. To be honest, I was hesitant to try it at first. After all, what does Google Docs have that other, more feature-rich office suites don’t have? But I have to say that its trademark simplicity has won me over.

That simplicity doesn’t mean that it’s limited in functionality, though. Let’s take a closer look to find out what else we can do with this seemingly lightweight tool.

Take Advantage of Templates for Quick Document Creation

Like any other office suite, Google Docs allows you to use document templates. This is especially handy if you’re in a hurry to make a document such as a schedule, business card, resume or invoice. Looking for something a little more esoteric? Google Docs has a wide variety of templates available, because most of them are user-submitted. They include a life checklist for your long-term plans, an online contact form, and even legal documents such as living wills.

Create File Redundancy and Backups

Google Docs can batch download documents into a ZIP file (via More actions > Export) if you want to make local copies in your hard drive. Personally I don’t find this method practical, especially if you want to retain the folder structure of your files.

Over on TheAppGap I wrote a tutorial on how to backup your files and retain the folder structure with a Greasemonkey script and DownloadThemAll. Just make sure that you assign the files to the right folders when you download them, so that they mirror the folder structure you use in Docs.

Apart from native Docs files, you can also upload and store other file types into Google Docs. This new feature can come in handy if you want to backup some files online. For those who use multiple computers, you might no longer have to carry around a USB flashdrive. Free users are limited to 1GB of storage, but you can buy more if you need it.

Use Google Docs to View Documents from Search Results
When PDF files come up in Google search results, you have the option to “Quick View” them, which automatically opens them in Google Docs. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for Microsoft Office files. If you come across them a lot when you’re searching for reports and other documents, you might want to install the Import to Google Docs add-on by Srikant (there are versions available for both Firefox and Chrome). If you use this add-on, whenever an Office file appears in search results, an “Import as Google Document” link can be seen next to it, like the one below:


You won’t have to download those files or open another program just to view the contents — they’ll automatically be uploaded in Docs.

Web Publishing

You can use Google Docs to create online polls and surveys, as well as analyze the data via Google Spreadsheets (see this handy tutorial by Chris Pirillo). As I mentioned earlier, some templates are meant for online publishing, such as the contact form, client questionnaires and event registration forms.

For those who love metrics, you can track the visitors to these pages (as well as other publicly viewable files) via your Analytics account, too. Just go to Settings > Editing, then input your Analytics tracking code.

Do you use Google Docs? How do you customize the way you use it?

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