The Ultimate Guide to Google Docs

Get a quick start on creating, editing, and sharing Google Docs.

Google is taking over the world, right? Not only have they helped online businesses generate billions of dollars through their search engine, but they’re branching out and creating their own products.

One of those is Google Docs — a fantastic alternative to Microsoft Word that allows anyone to easily create their own shareable document. Forget the confusing process of creating, saving, and sharing your document using three different tools. Google Docs can handle all three.

Not only is Google Docs completely free to use, but you can begin to create documents within a matter of minutes. All you need is an internet connection and a Google account (the same one used for Gmail, Google Calendar, or Google Analytics!) to get started.

Work your way through this guide to learn Google Docs tips and tricks, or use these links to jump to a specific section:

How to Find Word Count

Are you a college student, writing until your fingers feel numb to reach a word count on your paper? Perhaps you’re a marketer crafting your latest blog post. Or even an author trying to piece together the final elements of your book.

The one thing all of these people have in common? The need for a word count.

You can do this easily with Google Docs (without counting manually).

Once you’re in your document, find Tools in the navigation bar. Then, select "Word Count".


Or, you can hit Control+Shift+C if you’re on a PC.

Google will then display the total number of pages, words, characters, and characters excluding spaces:


This technique will tell you the sum for your entire document.

To limit the word count to a sentence, paragraph or page, highlight the text you want to include and follow the steps above.

How to Run Spell Check

As much as we’d like to think we’d all ace an English degree, that’s often not the case. It’s not uncommon for professional writers to make the occasional spelling mistake, but Google Docs can run a spell check to spot — and change — errors you might have missed. (Think of it as a personal proofreader for your document.)

To run a spell check in Google Docs, press the Tools button in your navigation bar and hit “Spelling”. Then, select the spell check option.


The software will then scan your entire document for misspelled words and grammatical errors:


You’ll be given the choice to either change the word to Google’s suggestion or ignore it and use your original word.

If you find that you’re frequently using a word Google doesn’t recognize, add it to your dictionary. This will prevent Google Docs from highlighting the word as an error in any future spell checks.

How to Add Strikethrough

Strikethrough formatting is a trick many Microsoft Word users love. But, when making the transition to Google Docs, you might struggle to locate the formatting button. That’s because it’s not positioned in the main navigation bar.

You can add strikethrough by highlighting the text you want to format. Head over to the Format section, and select Strikethrough:


You could also add strikethrough formatting through shortcuts from your keyboard.

For PC users, highlight your text and press Alt + Shift + 5.

For Mac users, highlight your text and ⌘ + Shift + X.

How to Add a Text Box

Planning on adding an extra element into your Google Doc? You can do that through text boxes, which allow you to position additional text elsewhere on your page without altering the format of your existing document.

In Google Docs, text boxes are classified as drawings. You can insert one into your Doc by heading to "Insert", followed by "Drawing".


You’ll then open Google’s Drawing feature. To add a text box to your document, press the "Text Box" button.

Then, drag your cursor into the drawing space to create a box big (or small) enough for your requirements.


Once your box has been created, it’s time for the easy part: entering your text!

You can change the font, color, and alignment of the text in your box by using the navigation bar in the pop-up window.


Happy with your text box? Just hit Save and Close to insert the “drawing” into your Google Doc.


From here, treat your text box as an image. You can select the image to change its alignment, and move the box around your Doc for better placement.

How to Change Margins

If you’re wishing to make the most of white space in your Google Doc, or format your document for printing, you might need to change its’ margins.

Before doing this, we’ll need to make sure the ruler is visible above your document. Simply head to "View" and press "Show Ruler".


You should see a virtual ruler below the formatting bar in your Google Doc.

Then, to change the margins of your page, locate the small blue button on the left-hand side of this ruler … and slide the button to alter your left margin.

change margins google doc

To change your right margin in Google Docs, repeat this process using the blue button on the right side of your ruler.


If you need strict margins for your Google Doc, we’d recommend using the Page Setup tool.

To find this, hit "File" > "Page Setup".


You’ll then see this pop-up box where you can enter a number to change the margins of your Doc (and ensure they’re accurate).


Need these exact margins in every Google Doc you create? Save time and hit the "Set as Default" button. This will automatically copy the margin set-up for new documents.

How to Do a Hanging Indent

Hanging indents are indents that automatically change the margin of a paragraph, without interrupting the format used elsewhere in your Google Doc. Here’s an example:


To add a hanging indent to your Google Doc, ensure your ruler is visible by pressing "View" > "Show Ruler".


Then, head back to your main document and highlight the text you want to format.

Add a hanging indent by locating the ruler above your document and sliding the blue arrows to your specification.

Slide the left-hand side arrow to alter the left indent, and the right-hand side arrow to change the right indent.


How to Change the Orientation to Landscape

Looking to change the orientation of your Google Doc? This is an easy and simple task to complete.

You’ll need to head to "File" and select "Page Setup":


Then, select the Landscape option under Orientation … and press OK to make your changes.


If you create many Google Docs and wish for them all to have Landscape orientation, you can press "Set as Default". This will copy your changes into any new Doc you create.

How to Set Up and Edit Google Docs Offline

A fantastic bonus for using Google Docs is you’re able to edit, save, and create documents through your web browser without an internet connection.

But, this isn’t an automatic feature. You’ll need to set-up offline connections in your account.

To do this, visit the Google Docs homepage and locate the Menu button on the left-hand side:


… and press "Settings".


A pop-up box will then be visible on your screen. To set up offline editing, toggle the Offline button to On. (This should be blue, rather than gray.)


Your browser will then adjust to offline editing, and you’ll see this icon when editing your Google Doc without an internet connection:


How to Share a Google Doc

Google Docs allows multiple people to work, collaborate, and edit a single document through their web browser.

To get started with Doc sharing, click "File", followed by "Share":


We then have multiple sharing options. The one you opt for is totally your choice.

Creating Shareable Links

The simplest way to share a Google Doc is to generate a shareable link. This allows anyone to click a unique URL and view your document.

After opening the "Sharing" box, hit the "Get Shareable Link" button in the top corner:


Then, select the sharing permission that you want your Google Doc to have:



After defining permissions, press "Copy link":


The URL will then be copied to your clipboard for you to send to anyone who wishes to view the document.

Sharing With Email Addresses

You’ve also got the option to share your Google Doc with an email address. This will send an invite to that person’s inbox, and add the Doc to their Google account.

To do this, head back to the Sharing box.

Enter the email address of the person you’d like to share your Doc with, and select an option from the dropdown to edit their permissions:


If you add a note to this invite, it will be displayed in their email invitation.

Advanced Sharing Options

Head back to your sharing box and hit "Advanced".

Here, we can see all sharing settings — including who has access to your Google Doc, their permission settings, and the option to invite more people:


How Do I Make a Google Doc Editable by Anyone?

Want to grant anyone permission to edit the contents of your Google Doc? Hit File, followed by Share, to get your shareable link:


In the dropdown menu displayed, press “Anyone with the link can edit”:


This will allow anyone with your unique URL to make changes, edit, and delete your document,  so be wary about who you’re sharing it with.

How to Track Changes

If you’re working with another person on your Google Doc, you can ask them to Track Changes. This will show you who made the edits, at what time, and what the previous text was.

You can track changes in a Google Doc by changing Editing to Suggesting in the top navbar:


Then, edit your document as normal. Any changes will be formatted in a different color, with a box on the right-hand side to show your name, photo and editing details.

The creator of the document can then browse the tracked changes and accept or reject them as necessary.

How to Create a Table of Contents

If you’re writing a college paper, presentation, or whitepaper, a table of contents allows you to display each section, and the page number it can be found on.

You can insert a table of contents in your Google Doc by ensuring all subheadings are formatted with a heading tag.

To do this, highlight your sub-heading and press the appropriate tag in your formatting bar:


(As a general rule of thumb, the Heading 1 tag should be your main title. Heading 2 tags should be sub-headings, and use Heading 3 tags as sections below a sub-head.)

Now, we’re ready to create our table of contents!

Simply hold your cursor where you’d like to insert it, then head to the Insert tab. Click "Table of contents", and choose an option based on your preference:


How to Add Page Numbers

Page numbers make your document easy to navigate, and allow for better organization when printed to avoid wondering, “Is this page in the right place?”.

Add page numbers to your Google Doc by heading to "Insert" > "Header" > "Page Number". Then choose an option of your choice.


How to Create a Form

So, you’re looking to create a form that collects customer data. You might assume that Google Docs is a simple way to do this, right?

Despite this being a Google Docs guide, we don’t recommend using the Docs tool to create a form. Instead, head over to Google Forms (part of Google’s arsenal of products) and use this software to generate any forms to collect data.

You can select a template from Google’s gallery … or create your own from scratch.


Google Forms allows you to collect responses and view data more accurately. It’s free to use, and can integrate with software like Asana and HubSpot.  

How to Use Voice Typing

Voice technology is a growing industry, with 50% of all searches predicted to be through voice search by 2020. You can get a headstart (and speed-up your writing process) by using voice typing on Google Docs.

To use voice typing in Google Docs, begin by checking that your microphone works in your PC or mobile device’s settings.

Then head to "Tools" > "Voice Typing". You’ll see a microphone icon.


Click it and begin to say the sentences you want to write. Google will use it’s virtual brain to convert audio into text, and you’ll see your spoken words appear on the page — as if by magic.

Best Google Docs Add-Ons

Google allows users to add third-party tools to their Doc library, which provide extra features that aren’t available in the standard Docs software.

You can find these add-ons by locating the "Add-Ons" tab in your navigation bar, followed by "Get add-ons".


If you’re just getting started with Google Docs (or are looking for additional features that aren’t available in the standard tool), we recommend:

  • Google Keep: Writing a document that needs extra supporting data? Install this add-on to your browser and collect notes, case studies and references you’re planning to use. Then, use the Docs add-on to open, view, and edit the notes you’ve saved.
  • Google Fonts: Consistent branding is important, but that can be tricky when you’re using unique fonts. The Google Fonts add-on imports thousands of fonts in Google’s library to your Doc, which can be used directly from the font dropdown.
  • HelloSign: Writing-up a contract, agreement, or other type of paperwork? This Google Doc add-on can help to collect electronic signatures, which are proven to add an extra layer of security to personal Docs.
  • Translate: Working cross-country? Install this add-on to your Docs to easily translate your content into another language, or vice versa.
  • Lucidchart: This add-on allows you to add diagrams to your Doc that are easy to design, edit, and use. It’s perfect for anyone working with data, or looking for a fun way to display charts.

How to Link or Embed a Google Sheet in a Google Doc

Google offers many products, including Google Sheets which is similar to Microsoft Excel. It’s used primarily for data entry and spreadsheet creation, but you might need to link or embed a Google Sheet into your Google Doc.

Although this isn’t a feature currently supported by Google, there’s a simple work-around.

To do this, head to your Sheet and highlight the data you want to embed. Right-click on this data and press "Copy".


Then, navigate back to your Doc and right-click where you want to insert the data.

Press "Paste", and select:

“Link to Spreadsheet”

This will paste the table along with a link to the original Google Sheet. Use this option if both your Sheet and Doc are shared with the same people.

or “Paste Unlinked”

If you don’t want to share your entire Sheet with those who have access to your Doc, paste the table Unlinked.

When embedding your Sheet into a Google Doc, be wary about any formulas used. These won’t be copied across, but the data will. For example: =(F25+E5) will become 74.

And, remember that because the Sheets aren’t embedded directly, any changes in your original data won’t sync with your document. Make sure it’s perfect, first!


Congratulations! You’re now a Google Docs pro!

From high-level marketers to college students, we’re confident these tips will allow you to take advantage of Google’s free software and create incredible documents of any kind.

Posts by Tag

See all

Read More About Google Docs on HubSpot's Blog