What is Google Docs and How Does it Work?

Google Docs ExplainedGoogle Docs is one of the productivity applications that’s included with free consumer Gmail and with G Suite [for business].

It is a cloud-based word processor, which means that no desktop software is required to create and edit documents. Documents are stored on Google Drive, which is the cloud drive included with Gmail and G Suite.

Google Docs has all the core capabilities that can be found in traditional word processors. It also has a number of capabilities that relate to the fact that the documents are stored on a cloud drive (vs. on someone’s desktop). Here are just a few of those capabilities.

Selectively Share a Google Doc

A document can be fully private to its creator, who is also the initial owner (ownership can be transferred within an organization). A document can be shared with one person, a group of people or with everyone in the world. When the document is shared with everyone in the world, the default setting is View Only (see example below).

Sharing can also have an expiration date. For example, the document owner can use this to give someone a deadline for making edits to a document they created.

G Suite users can share with other G Suite users within and outside of their organization. A G Suite user can share a Google Doc with a consumer Gmail user and visa versa. A Google Doc can even be shared with someone who has a Google account without Gmail.

Collaborate With Other Users

One or more people can be added to a document as collaborators. The owner of a document can give a collaborator full edit permissions, comment only permissions or view only permissions.

The owner and collaborators (aside from view only collaborators) can make general comments. They can also direct or assign comments to another collaborator as a task. The latter is done by pre-pending the collaborator’s email address with a “+” sign.

Any collaborator can email any other collaborator(s) from within the document.

Google Docs: Email Collaborators

Insert Images

There are at least seven ways that an image can be added to a document. Most can be done without leaving the document.

  • Upload an image from a local drive
  • Take a snapshot with a built-in computer camera or with a camera connected to the computer
  • Paste in the URL of an image from somewhere on the web
  • Select an image from “Your Albums” (these can be images that are automatically synched from a mobile phone)
  • Insert any image that is in Google Drive
  • Search the web for images (consider usage rights if the document is shared with the world)
  • Copy/paste an image from another G Suite Doc or Slides presentation. An image can flow through the local clipboard or through the provided Web clipboard.

Google Docs: Insert Image

Embed Other G Suite Components in a Document

A chart from Google Sheets can be embedded in a document. When the spreadsheet data behind that chart changes, an Update button will appear in the embedded chart within a Google Doc. Clicking that button will refresh the embedded chart based on the current data.

Inserting a Drawing into a document allows for pasting multiple images into one frame within a Google Doc. For example, an entire Google Slides slide can be copy/pasted into a Drawing within a document.

Embed a Document in a Website

Here is a view-only Google Doc that’s embedded in this WordPress blog using the code provided within the document when it’s published. This is a copy of recent iOS Gmail app design changes that was published by Google.

While table of contents links work in an embedded document, links to websites do not.

Save Google Docs to Your Local Drive

A Google Doc can be saved to a local drive in any of the following formats. Once saved, it can be edited (except for PDF & EPUB formats) and emailed or uploaded to another location.

  • Microsoft Word (.docx)
  • OpenDocument Format (.odt)
  • Rich Text Format (.rtf)
  • PDF Document (.pdf)
  • Plain Text (.txt)
  • Web Page (.html, zipped)
  • EPUB Publication (.epub)

The document can also be directly emailed to anyone as an attachment — right from within the document itself. One of the options is to include the document (along with any images) in the body of the email.

Convert a Microsoft Word Document to a Google Doc

A Microsoft Word document can be dragged and dropped into Google Drive and then converted to Google Docs format.

With a Chrome extension called Office Editing for Docs, Sheets & Slides, a Word document can be dragged onto a browser tab and edited as a Word document. It can also be converted to Google Docs format at that point.

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