Navigation techniques, writing time, and the need for related content and collaboration can all differ when working with long Google docs. With a file of a few hundred words, it takes very little time to scroll from start to finish. With a long Google doc, scrolling may not be the best way to navigate.
Many short files are short-term projects, started and completed in minutes, hours, or days rather than the weeks, months, or years you’d have to work on a long Google Doc.
Often, short Google Docs are self-contained, with no other files needed, while some long Google Docs rely on folders full of relevant reference and source materials. In addition, you may want to collaborate with people on some piece of content for a long Google Doc, rather than share access to your main file like you might with a short Google Doc.
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The sections below describe how to organize folders and files, apply styles to facilitate structure and navigation, create links to places in a document and related files, share access to specific folders or files, and prepare your work for final review.
Organize files in Google Drive
For larger projects that can span multiple parts, create a new folder on Google Drive. Within that folder, you can create additional folders to contain files relevant to part of your project. For example, in a recent project I worked on, I thoroughly researched six different software solutions, so I created a folder for each vendor containing a Google doc for notes, a separate Google doc for my draft text, a Google spreadsheet to feature details to track and a recorded video of a Google Meet demo meeting.
In the main project folder, create a new Google Doc for your project. Give your document a name that will help you identify the file quickly and easily. If there is a deadline associated with the project, you can indicate that in the name. For example, a file named MajorWritingProject-20221130 subtly reinforces that you must complete your work by the end of November 2022.
Select your project folder on Google Drive, then select the three-dot more menu and choose Add to Star. Do the same for the main Google document for your project. This way you can quickly access your project files by going to Google Drive | . to go Starred, in the menu on the left, as shown in Image A.
Apply paragraph styles as you work to structure sections of text. Styles distinguish between titles (eg Title, Subtitle), headings (eg Heading 1, Heading 2, Heading 3) and normal text. The system relies on these styles to automatically create a document outline, which you can open from View | Show overview. Once active, the outline icon provides a quick way to not only display the text sections, as shown in Figure Bbut you can also click or tap a section to go directly to its content.
By my count, Google gives you at least five different ways to apply styles as you write. I take that as a strong signal that you should use styles as shown in Figure B. For example, here are five different ways you can enter Heading 2 text.
- Select text, then click or tap the arrow to the right of the Normal Text menu item and select Heading 2.
- Select text and then Format | Paragraph Styles | Apply heading 2
- Type @heading, which will bring up a menu in the document from which you can select and apply any of the heading options.
- Select text, then press a keyboard shortcut: Ctrl+Alt+2 on Windows and ChromeOS or Command+Option+2 on macOS.
- With Markdown enabled (Tools | Preferences | Autodetect Markdown), start a line of text with ## followed by a space. The following text entered has the Heading 2 style.
Variations of any of these allow you to enter the full range of titles, headings, and regular text styles.
Link to quickly access a location or file
For quick access to a specific spot in a Google doc, place the cursor over a point in the text and choose Insert | Bookmark the menu system. You can also type @bookmark followed by the enter or return key. This will add a bookmark indicator to the side of your text, as shown in Figure C.
Click or tap the bookmark and then select the copy icon to place the link to the bookmark on your clipboard. You can then paste this link elsewhere. For example, you can paste this link at the top of your document to quickly go to the bookmark by following the link.
You can also insert a link to other items stored on Google Drive for quick access to a related file. Type @ followed part of a file or folder, then select the file or folder from the Google Drive list displayed when it appears. The system inserts a small icon indicating a folder or the type of file along with the item name, as shown in Figure C. Place your cursor over the icon or name and then click or tap the file name to open the file.
In Google Drive, select a folder or file followed by the Share button, enter contributor email addresses, and adjust the permission level (ie Viewer, Commenter, or Editor) to your liking. Do you remember the subfolders suggested earlier for specific parts of your project? You can share access to an entire folder to give collaborators access to every item in it. Or you share access to one Google Doc instead. For projects with logical segments, careful folder and file structure allows you to collaborate with different people on different parts of your project.
Although it is becoming rarer, some people still prefer to view and mark up printed pages. Select File | Page Setup | Pages to configure your document for print output. Once in that mode, you can Insert | . use Page Numbers for different numbering options. To see Add page numbers and bookmarks in Google Docs For more information. Select File | Print to output your document to a printer.
If you think your document is almost complete, select Tools | Spelling and Grammar | Spelling and grammar checker. This can find many potential errors or omissions in your document. Be sure to review and correct all identified issues.
In addition, you can also use the search function (Ctrl+F on Windows or ChromeOS, Command+F on macOS) to find words or terms that you want to make sure they are used consistently. For example, the terms multifactor and multifactor are both widely used in technology publications like this one. A search can help you find terms in your document to ensure consistency. Long documents allow you to identify different terms that deserve similar consideration and standardization.
What is your experience?
Have you used any of the above strategies when working with long documents in Google Docs? What other techniques have helped you manage larger writing projects with Google Docs? Do you regularly use styles along with the overview tool to organize and navigate sections of your file? Call or message me on Twitter (@awolber) to let me know how you work with larger writing projects in Google Docs and Google Drive.