Useful Tools to Format Complex Documents in Google Docs

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Millions of people use Google Docs every day for writing novels, dissertations, resumes, recipes and thousands of other projects. In all of these things, organization – within the documents and beyond – can give you more time to concentrate on the act of creation rather than searching for that section that needs just one more tweak to make it perfect. This article takes a look at tools to help you better format your documents in Google Docs.

Outlines

The best way to begin a longer project is with an outline. For Google Docs, this means starting to define your structure with Heading styles, the first three of which are available on the Toolbar, where by default it says Paragraph. Access additional layers using “Format -> Paragraph styles.”

Image showing a document with outline pane visible.

The outline is available to the left of your page. To see it, select “View -> Show document outline.” Within the Outline pane, your headings automatically become links, allowing you to jump around the document without endless scrolling. When you hover over a heading, the X icon on the right will not delete the section but will remove it from your outline.

Table of Contents

Image showing the two options for creating a Table of Contents in Google Docs.

The same document structure used for outlines can also be used to create a Table of Contents. The difference here is that the ToC is created to be used by the reader. There are two options available. For printed distribution, select the first option at “Insert -> Table of contents.” This creates the list and adds page numbers.

For online distribution, choose the second option, which will add in standard hyperlinks to each section. If you make major changes to your text, remember to go back and refresh the ToC using the icon that appears when you select the frame. Text in the Table of Contents can be formatted like any other text.

Bookmarks

Document bookmarks create anchors within a document and can be used to navigate around work that may be distributed across different files, folders or accounts. If you have access to the document, clicking a Bookmark link will take you to that particular spot. This is great for large scale or collaborative document creation.

Image showing the icon present once a bookmark is added to a page.

To add one, place the cursor where you want to link to and select “Insert -> Bookmark.” A small blue icon will appear next to it, and clicking this will provide an option to copy a link or remove the bookmark. Bookmarks are great for when you need to come back and work on a section. I use them to connect notes in Google Keep to sections that need more work.

Document breaks

There are three ways you can add breaks in a document. The first of these is a page break and will simply put any content following it onto a new page. It can be useful for a chapter ending or to avoid widow or orphan lines in your text. When using this, you should go back and check the fall of lines on your pages in case your page breaks have done something odd.

Image showing the options for section breaks in Google Docs.

Page breaks are treated like any page content; they can be deleted by putting the cursor below it and pressing backspace.

Section breaks are more useful in that they can be “continuous,” meaning the content will flow on the same page as the break, or “next page,” which will always put a page break before the next section. Sections can also have their own margin settings, which is especially useful in technical projects.

Section breaks are more persistent than page breaks. To get rid of one, first make them visible (“View -> Show section breaks”), then put your cursor on the end of the line above the break and tap the Delete key twice. Note that this is also going to delete the first letter of your next section.

Project links

Image showing some of the link options in Google Docs.

If your project is getting too complex, it may be better to break it into multiple documents, in which case, the “Insert -> Link” option is going to be very helpful. Highlight a piece of text and select this, and you’ll be given the option to link to any of the elements you set up earlier (headings or bookmarks) or some Web element related to your highlighted text, which is excellent for research.

This dialogue will also make a couple of suggestions for links to your own documents on Drive related to the highlighted word. You can also click on “Find more,” which will open a pane on the right with suggestions from the Web, Google Images or your own Drive folders. You can also, of course, simply paste in a URL, such as one created from the Bookmarks tool above.

Beyond working and formatting your documents in Google Docs, you can also cite articles in your documents, add signatures and compare two documents in Google Docs.

Check out more tips and tricks on Google Docs, too.

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Andy Channelle

Andy Channelle is a writer and web developer who has written for Linux Format, Mac Format, 3D World and others, and has also published best-selling books on Ubuntu Linux and OpenOffice.org. He's recently worked on web projects and campaigns for the International Red Cross and the UN. He produces - but hardly ever releases - electronica under the name Collision Detector. Andy lives in Wales, UK.

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