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How to get more work done in Google Docs

Download a zipped copy of your Google Docs files, add boilerplate text via the auto-correct tool, get quick access to a list of keyboard shortcuts, and share files with one person or many--privately or publicly.

Dennis O'Reilly Former CNET contributor
Dennis O'Reilly began writing about workplace technology as an editor for Ziff-Davis' Computer Select, back when CDs were new-fangled, and IBM's PC XT was wowing the crowds at Comdex. He spent more than seven years running PC World's award-winning Here's How section, beginning in 2000. O'Reilly has written about everything from web search to PC security to Microsoft Excel customizations. Along with designing, building, and managing several different web sites, Dennis created the Travel Reference Library, a database of travel guidebook reviews that was converted to the web in 1996 and operated through 2000.
Dennis O'Reilly
3 min read

Not many people use only one computer. In fact, most of us hop from machine to machine in the course of a workday.

The best way to make sure you can access your important files from any of the various machines in your digital life is to store the files online. If you use Google Docs as your online file repository, these tips will help shorten your workday.

Send a zipped copy of all your Google Docs files to your hard drive
Most PC users back up their important files by copying them to an optical disc or USB storage device, or by uploading them to an online storage service. Now online backups work the other way, too.

To download all your Google Docs documents, spreadsheets, presentations, and other files to your PC in a single zipped file, select any file and click More > Download. Choose "All items" and check a file type or "Don't download (skip)" in the drop-down menus for each file category. You can also change all formats to MS Office, Open Office, or PDF.

Google Docs Convert and Download dialog box
Pick the types of files you want to back up in each of the categories of the Google Docs Convert and Download dialog. screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly

It took less than a minute to compress and download 300 files--mostly Word documents and Excel spreadsheets--to a 68MB ZIP file. If you prefer not to wait for the download to complete, click "Email when ready" to have Google send you a link when the file is available for download.

Use Google Docs auto-correct to save typing
The Google Docs text editor suggests corrections for misspelled words: right-click or Command-click the word, choose "Always correct to," and select the correct spelling from the terms suggested.

Google Docs context menu options
Add terms to the auto-correct list in Google Docs via suggestions on the context menu. screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly

You can also create shortcuts for commonly entered text, such as your name, title, employer, or other oft-repeated boilerplate term. To do so, click Tools > Preferences, enter the shortcut keys in the Replace box, and the text of your choice in the With box. Now when you enter that text string followed by a space the longer boilerplate will appear.

Google Docs Preferences dialog box
Create shortcuts for text you frequently enter by adding the keystrokes and replacement text in Google Docs' Preferences dialog. screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly

To prevent Google Docs from automatically creating fractions, ellipses, copyright and trademark symbols, and other special characters, uncheck to item in the Preferences list, or click the x to the right to delete the item.

Keyboard shortcuts especially for Google Docs
Most of us can remember about a dozen keyboard shortcuts that we use regularly. In a post from 2008, I describe how to create a text file listing dozens of keystroke combinations, so the only keyboard shortcut you have to remember is the one you assign to open that file.

To open the Google Docs version of this keyboard-shortcut cheat sheet, press Ctrl (or Command on a Mac) and / (forward slash). Alternatively, you could add these five Google Docs keystroke combos to your master shortcut list:

Ctrl-Shift-C: View a word count
Ctrl-Shift-Y: View the selected word's definition
Ctrl-; (semicolon): Move to the next misspelled word
Alt-Shift-F: Move to the menu bar
Ctrl-\ (backslash): Clear formatting

Bonus tip: To maximize your view in Google Docs, enter Ctrl-Shift-F to activate the full-screen view. Click View > Full screen to hide the controls. Press Esc to view the controls, and Ctrl-Shift-F again to revert to the normal view.

Make files accessible to everyone or only invitees
All the files you store on Google Docs are private by default. To share a file, right-click it and choose Share. From this menu you can send the file as an e-mail attachment, send an e-mail to the collaborators you designate, or choose Share again to open the "Share settings" dialog.

Click Change under "Who has access" to make the file public (accessible to anyone on the Web) or available to anyone with a link to the file. These two options don't require any sign-in, and you can designate whether viewers can edit the file as well.

You can also keep the file private but share it with only the people you designate. This setting requires that collaborators sign in to access the file. Click in the "Add people" text box and enter an e-mail address, or select entries from your contacts list.

Google Docs Share settings dialog box
Share files in Google Docs with only the people you specify in the "Share settings" dialog. screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly

By default, the people you share with can also edit the file. Click "Can edit" on the right to limit them to commenting or only viewing the document. You can also paste the file's content into the message and send yourself a copy.