4 Google Docs features you didn’t know you were missing

Docs can make writing easier. You still got to come up with the words, though.
hands on keyboard
Optimize your writing. Kaitlyn Baker / Unsplash

This story has been updated. It was first published on April 3, 2022.

Google’s word processor might seem like a simple tool, but Docs is actually full of useful features that will make your writing experience better and more efficient. The company usually makes announcements when big updates are on the horizon, but some functionalities inevitably fly under the radar for a lot of users. 

Luckily for you, we found some you might have missed. 

Keep track of everything with the Activity dashboard

At the center of the Venn diagram comparing Google Analytics and Google Docs is the latter’s Activity dashboard. You can find this feature at the very bottom of the Tools menu, and once you open it you’ll get a bunch of data on the usage of that document. 

On the dashboard’s left sidebar, click Viewers to see the people who can access the file. If you go to the All viewers tab, you’ll be able to see who opened the document and when, sorted from the most recent visitor to the oldest. 

[Related: The greatest Google Docs shortcut you’re probably not using]

Check the Viewer trend tab to see how many visits the document has had in a given period of time. Use the dropdown menu in the upper right corner to change the default 14-day view to an all-time visual, or narrow the timeframe down to the last seven days. You can also slide the dotted blue lines on the graph to create a custom range. The Comment trend tab shows a similar graph, this time depicting the daily frequency of comments and replies, and how many of them were left unresolved. 

Note that both of these trend tabs display only numbers, not names, so if you were thinking about using this feature to call out your coworkers on something, that’s not going to work. 

How to compare documents on Google Docs

The benefit of working on documents in the cloud is there’s just one file that all users can access, no matter what device they’re on.

But there are still people who insist on using locally saved files, which eventually result in a handful of slightly different versions of the same thing, with names like “Final_report_my_edits,” or “Final-report-FINAL.” And if you’re the one in charge of consolidating those documents, well, good luck to you. 

Fortunately, Google Docs now has the Compare documents feature, which you can find under the Tools menu. This functionality allows you to fuse two files together, and Google will highlight the differences between the two. 

To use it, open a document in Google Docs—it can be a native file or a converted Word or PDF file. Then go to Tools, Compare documents, and use the emerging explorer window to dive into your Google Drive and find the file you want to compare the current one with. Docs will then open a fused document in a new tab and will underline the changes as if they were added suggestions. 

If you need to consolidate more than two documents, you can do so from the new, combined, file and repeat the process until you’re done. It’s the perfect tool for an utterly tedious task. Now go try to convince your colleagues to start working in the cloud. 

Use @ as a master shortcut

In the past, typing an @ in the body of a Google Doc would only allow you to mention someone and send them a notification. This would let you tell a colleague to check something specific, or assign tasks to a group of people. 

You can still do that, but the @” character has become a lot more useful, and you can even use it as a sort of master shortcut for many popular actions within Google Docs. The moment you type it, you’ll see an emerging menu with a list of possibilities that start with the classic mentions. The platform will show you two names you can click on and insert into the body text, but you can click the arrow next to People to get six more recommendations—usually people you’ve been in recent contact with.

The menu continues with other elements such as Meeting notes. This function shows Google Docs’ integration with Google Calendar and will allow you to choose from a list of events in your personal calendar. Once in your document, this content block will include links to the event you picked, the date on your schedule, and the names of everyone in attendance. Finally, you’ll see a space for the notes and action items you can fill out with what you discussed at the chosen meeting. 

You can also insert shortcuts to recent or important documents in your Drive. This is useful if you’re submitting a report with links to other files, for example. 

If you keep scrolling down the @ menu, you’ll find more elements to personalize your document, like a link that’s always updated with today’s date, calendar events, horizontal lines, checkboxes, headings of various sizes, drawings, tables, and more. 

This menu is especially useful if you like intricately designed documents and use actions that don’t have a keyboard shortcut (like adding images). It also comes in handy if you simply are not a keyboard shortcut kind of person.

Now that you know how quietly some useful features find their way into Google Docs, make a habit of checking the main menus on the navigation bar. Be on the lookout for a blue label that says New. This is how Google labels new tools, and who knows, maybe the next one you find will change the way you work on the platform forever. 

How to go pageless on Google Docs

It’s funny to think about pages in the digital world, mainly because the physical limitations of a sheet of paper just don’t exist on a screen. That hasn’t stopped pretty much every word processing program from formatting its interface to mimic a blank white page. But now, if you want, you can make all that page clutter disappear on Google Docs.

At the beginning of the year, the company announced Docs’ new pageless feature, which allows users to use the space in the platform’s interface more efficiently. This mode can come in handy if your writing will live online instead of print, and it will prevent you from seeing page breaks in the middle of your text. Google Doc’s pageless mode will also allow you to insert wider pics into your document, or even insert full-sized images side by side without constraints. 

But having no pages doesn’t mean you’ll be typing long, illegible lines going from one side of the visible area all the way to the other. When you set up the pageless feature, you’ll still be able to see the margin sliders at the top of your screen, and move them left or right depending on how wide you want your body text to be. To expand the limits, you can also click on those little blue sliders and choose Text Width on the emerging menu—there, you’ll be able to choose Narrow, Medium (selected by default,) and Wide. You can get to the same menu by clicking View and then Text Width

[Related: Boost your productivity on Google Docs and Sheets using scripts and macros]

To activate the pageless feature, open a new document and go to File, then Page setup. On the emerging window, click the Pageless tab, followed by OK, to make your choice stick. You can also click Set as default to make every new Google Docs file a pageless one.

As a fun extra feature, the Page setup menu also allows you to easily change the background color of your screen—or your page if you decide to stick to the old-school style. Just open the Background color or Page color dropdown menu, and choose whatever hue your heart desires.