Welcome to today’s Wonder Tools 💌 newsletter. I’m Jeremy Caplan. When I’m not writing these posts, I’m director of teaching and learning at CUNY’s Newmark Graduate School of Journalism. If you’ve got a new project you’re developing, consider applying by Sept 6 to our online 100-day Journalism Creators Program.
Google Docs is a contemporary classic. It’s less powerful than Notion, Coda or Craft and less streamlined than Bear, Ulysses, Drafts, or iA Writer. But it’s so reliable — and has so many capabilities — that I still use it regularly. Read on for useful features to try.
⏰ Save time on your documents
1. Create a new doc instantly
Type doc.new in your browser’s address bar to open a new document. You can also type sheet.new, slide.new, form.new, site.new, drawing.new, or cal.new to create instant Google spreadsheets, slides, forms, sites, drawings or calendar events. This works in Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Arc.
2. Translate your text automatically
Share your doc in another language. Your original is preserved — GDocs creates a translated copy. It’s not human quality, but it’s enough for the gist.
How: Go to Tools > Translate document.
3. Display a live word count
Show a persistent count at the bottom left of your editing window.
How: Go to Tools > Word count— or Command-Shift-C — and check the box for “Display word count while typing.”
4. Type with your voice
This works well when you’re tired of typing. Instead of facing a blank page, think out loud, then edit your dictated draft.
How: Go to Tools > Voice typing
5. Type @ to quickly add elements to your doc
This new feature lets you more quickly add checklists, numbered lists, and bulleted lists. Or insert images, tables, and charts.
How: Type @ for a keyboard shortcut to insert whatever you need, rather than hunting through menus with your mouse.
6. Add email drafts and project trackers inside your doc
Inspired by Notion & Coda, GDocs now lets you insert “building blocks.” These include mini-templates for meeting notes and tracking content. One block lets you create an email draft. You can collaborate on it in a doc, then send in Gmail.
How: Type @ and choose the block you want.
The ONA22 conference — happening Sept. 21-24 in Los Angeles and virtually — provides over 80 sessions and a platform to learn, connect and shape the future of digital media.
As a previous attendee put it, “I always have at least one jaw-drop moment at ONA where I learn one ‘big’ thing that was worth the price of admission all by itself.”
🌟 Make your doc look better
7. Add a gif to show how something works
Gifs are a nice way to get around not being able to embed videos in a doc. Make gifs with Giphy or use CloudApp to record a screen capture as a gif.
How: Go to Insert > Image and select your gif to add it to your doc.
To see an example of a gif in a Google Doc, or to try adding one of your own, visit my cat jibberish public doc.
8. Create a highlighter effect
Make important text stand out by adding a color to it.
How: Select text, click the highlighter button & pick bright yellow, as in the gif above.
9. Use bigger fonts
Bigger text is easier to read. People will appreciate the readability of your docs. Use size 14 if you can get away with it. Look at the second page of the cat jibberish doc to see the difference a larger font makes.
10. Try Georgia, Raleway, Proxima Nova or Oswald
These fonts are easy to read, elegant and professional. Tip: Use WhatTheFont to identify nice-looking fonts on other sites.
How: For more font options in GDocs, click the font button on the tool palette and then More fonts to add alternatives.
11. Break text into sections
Use horizontal line breaks to clean up long docs.
How: Use Insert > Horizontal line
Beyond Google Docs
My favorite alternative is iA Writer. It works for macOS, iOS, Windows, and Android. Here’s why I find it to be the simplest way to write.
Other clean, simple apps for writing include Bear, Ulysses, Calmly Writer and Drafts. Each offers a minimalist interface to help you focus more on writing than on tinkering. For bigger projects, Scrivener helps keep your writing organized.
What are your thoughts on GDocs vs others? Comment👇
Develop your own project this fall
Building your own newsletter, podcast or niche site? Apply to join the 100-day online Journalism Creators Program at CUNY’s Newmark Graduate School of Journalism. Our most recent group included 32 terrific creators from 15 countries, each creating a newsletter, podcast, niche site or other creative venture. Here are some of their thoughts about the program. Gain skills & knowledge while expanding your network and making something of your own. Deadline: Sept 6.
Loved this! You missed one of my favorites, the Outline feature! If you use the Header 1, 2, 3 etc. it will automatically create a nice outline of your document to help make navigating sections of long docs easier. Thanks for the helpful tips as always!
This is incredibly helpful. Feels like Google is trying to make their space more like Notion and I support that 100%.