How to work with long documents in Google Docs

Andy Wolber/TechRepublic

Navigation techniques, writing time, and the need for related content and collaboration may differ when working with long Google Docs documents. With a file of a few hundred words, it takes little time to scroll from start to finish. However, 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 might spend on a long Google Doc.

Often short Google Docs are self-contained, with no need for other files, while some long Google Docs rely on folders full of relevant source and reference material. Also, you may want to collaborate with people for a particular piece of content in a long Google Doc, rather than sharing access to your main file like you would with a short Google Doc.

WATCH: Google Workspace vs. Microsoft 365: A Side-by-Side Analysis with Checklist (TechRepublic Premium)

The following sections cover organizing folders and files, applying styles for easy structure and navigation, linking to places in a document and related files, sharing access to specific files or folders, and preparing your work for final review.

How to organize files in Google Drive

For larger projects that may involve multiple parts, create a new folder in Google Drive. Within that folder, you can create additional folders to contain files relevant to a part of your project. For example, a recent project I worked on took an in-depth look at six different software solutions, so I created a folder for each vendor that contained a Google Doc for notes, a separate Google Doc for my draft, a Spreadsheet for Google to track feature details and a recorded video of a Google Meet demo meeting.

Inside the main project folder, create a new Google Doc for your project. Give your Doc a name that ensures you’ll quickly and easily recognize the file. If there is a deadline associated with the project, you can indicate this 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 in Google Drive, then select the three more dots menu and choose Add to Starred. Do the same with the main Google Doc of your project. This way you can quickly access your project files by going to Google Drive | With star, in the menu on the left, as shown in Figure A.

Figure A

Star your project folder and main file for quick access in Google Drive and Google Docs.

Structure sections

As you work, apply paragraph styles to provide structure to sections of text. The styles differentiate between headings (for example, Heading, Subheading), headings (for example, Heading 1, Heading 2, Heading 3), and normal text. The system relies on these styles to automatically create a document outline, which you can access from View | Show outline. Once active, the outline icon provides a quick way to not only display sections of text, as shown in Figure Bbut it also allows you to click or tap on a section of the list to jump directly to the corresponding content.

By my count, Google gives you at least five different ways to apply styles as you type. I take that as a strong sign that you should use styles, as shown in Figure B. For example, here are five different ways to enter the text for Heading 2.

  • Select the text, then click or tap the arrow to the right of the Normal Text menu item and select Heading 2.
  • Select text, then Format | Paragraph Styles | Apply title 2.
  • Type @heading, which opens a menu in the document from which you can select and apply any of the heading options.
  • Select the text, then press a keyboard shortcut: Ctrl+Alt+2 on Windows and ChromeOS or Command+Option+2 on macOS.
  • With Markdown enabled (Tools | Preferences | Automatically Detect Markdown), begin a line of text with ## followed by a space. The next text entered will have the Heading 2 style.

Variants of each of these allow you to enter the full range of normal titles, headings, and text styles.

Figure B

Apply styles to a Google Doc and then use View | Show outline. You can click or tap the text in the outline to jump to that section of the document.

Link to access a location or file quickly

To quickly access a specific place within a Google Doc, place your cursor at a point in the text, then select Insert | Menu system bookmark. Alternatively, type @bookmark followed by the Enter or Return key. This adds a marker indicator to the side of your text, as shown in Figure C.

Click or tap the bookmark, then select the copy icon to place the link to the bookmark on your clipboard. You can then paste this link somewhere else. For example, you can paste this link near the top of your document to quickly jump to the bookmark by following the link.

You can also insert a link to other items stored in Google Drive for quick access to a related file. Type @ followed by part of a file or folder, then select the file or folder from the Google Drive list that appears when it is displayed. The system inserts a small icon indicating a folder or file type along with the item name, as shown in Figure C. Hover over the icon or name, then click or tap the file name to open it.

Figure C

Type the @ key in a Google document to bring up a menu that allows you to insert a bookmark or a link to a file or folder.

To collaborate

In Google Drive, select a folder or file followed by the Share button, enter collaborator email addresses, and adjust the permission level (ie Viewer, Commenter, or Editor) as desired. Remember the subfolders suggested above for specific parts of your project? You can share access to an entire folder to allow collaborators to access all the items it contains. Or, you can share access to a single Google Document instead. For projects with logical segments, a sensible folder and file structure allows you to collaborate with different people on different parts of your project.

While it may be getting rarer, some people still prefer to review and mark printed pages. Select file | Page Setup | Pages to set up your document for print output. Once in that mode, you can use Insert | Page numbers for various numbering options. See How to Add Page Numbers and Bookmarks in Google Docs for more details. Select file | Print to send your document to a printer.

Final revision

When you think your document is nearing completion, select Tools | Spelling and Grammar | Spelling and grammar check. This can find many potential errors or omissions in your document. Be sure to review and correct any identified issues.

Additionally, you can also use the search feature (Ctrl+F on Windows or ChromeOS, Command+F on macOS) to search for words or terms that you want to ensure are used consistently. For example, the terms multifactor and multifactor are widely used in technology publications like this one. A search can help you find terms within your document to ensure consistency. In long documents, you may identify several 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 in conjunction with the outline tool to organize and navigate to sections of your file? Mention me or send me a message on Twitter (@awlber) to let me know how he works with larger writing projects in Google Docs and Google Drive.

Leave a Comment