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My Best Tips and Tricks for Easier Editing in Google Docs

A brown wood desk with a pothos to the left and a Mac computer screen to the right. There is a bookshelf in the background.

Your client wants you to edit their document in Google Docs. Your first thought might be panic. What will you do?

First, see if you can simply download the Google Doc as a Word doc, edit the Word doc with tracked changes and comments, reupload the edited Word document to Google Drive, and convert it back to a Google Doc. This is often a good solution if the client doesn’t have Microsoft Word and uses Google Docs to write and edit. It’s also a good solution if the client doesn’t need you to edit in the same Google Doc.

Uploading an edited Word doc will, for the most part, preserve your edits and comments so the client can review them and accept, reject, and reply to them as normal in Google Docs. Editing in Word and reuploading also prevents the awkwardness of the client reviewing your edits as you’re working (or possibly beginning to accept and reject changes before you’ve finished the edit). If you’re working on a long-form document like a book manuscript, I strongly recommend using this process rather than editing directly in the Google Doc.

However, there are situations when downloading the Google Doc into Word and then reuploading won’t work. For instance, if you’re working with a brand and there are existing comments and edits in the Google Doc, or if they need to work out of the same Google Doc so that there’s a clear version history of any and all changes and who made them. In that case, you’re stuck editing in the Google Doc.

The Problems with Editing in Google Docs

Editing in Google Docs has some significant downsides. For one, you can’t use your editing tools like PerfectIt in Google Docs, and the Google Docs spellcheck is not as robust as Microsoft Word’s.

It’s a lot more time-consuming to edit in Google Docs because the tracked changes system, called Suggestions or Suggested Edits, gets real messy real quick. There’s no Simple Markup option, which makes it tough to see a clean version of the text as you edit as the page is littered with strikethroughs and additions, and comments can get buried in the sidebar of edits. You often can’t tell whether you deleted spaces between sentences and words, which results in lots of missing spaces, double spaces, and deleted punctuation once Suggested Edits are accepted.

In Word, you can toggle between All Markup and Simple Markup to make sure you’re not inserting errors like this as you edit. In Google Docs, you can somewhat do this by going to Tools —> Review Suggested Edits —> Preview “Accept All.” This shows you a version of the Doc with all the edits accepted.

However, you can’t edit the Google Doc in this Show Suggested Edits mode (unlike in Word’s Simple Markup). So you have to go back to seeing all the Suggested Edits in order to start editing. This is, of course, a problem if you’re trying to spot and fix errors like missing spaces or accidentally deleted periods.

My Hack for Editing in Google Docs

After I’ve done a first round of editing on a document, I generally read back through it with Simple Markup or No Markup to double-check that it reads smoothly and that there aren’t any lingering typos. You can’t do this in Google Docs. But it’s vital that you read through a version of the Google Doc with edits accepted, or you’ll end up with all those annoying typos.

Here’s my process for editing and reviewing my edits in a Google Doc.

1. Clean up and format silently in Google Docs (or cheat and use Word)

Cleanup is MUCH easier in Microsoft Word than it is in Google Docs. If you can get away with it, I suggest downloading the Google Doc as a Word doc and doing cleanup in Word with macros or PerfectIt or whatever tools you use. This is especially important for longer manuscripts or documents with lots of repetitive changes, like putting spaces around ellipses or cleaning up em dashes.

Once you’ve cleaned up and formatted the document in Word, you have two options:

  • You can upload the Word doc to Google Drive and save it as a Google Doc to work off of. (This only makes sense if you have to work on the Google Doc concurrently with the author; otherwise, just do all the edits in Word and upload as a new Google Doc once you’ve edited.)
  • If it’s a short piece without much formatting or the client insists on keeping the text in the same Google Doc (rather than creating a new one), delete the text in the Google Doc and paste in the cleaned-up version from Word (without tracked changes).

For shorter pieces like blog posts and short stories, I typically do cleanup and formatting in Google Docs because it takes less time to just do find and replace in Google Docs than download something to Word and reupload it. I usually have an idea of what needs to be cleaned up after skimming the document. Common culprits are dash problems, ellipses, double spaces, and formatting styles. Find and replace in Google Docs works for dashes, ellipses, and double spaces, and it’s easy enough to go through and adjust paragraph styles in Google Docs. (Although, obviously, it is much quicker in Word.)

2. Edit in Suggestions mode in Google Docs

After a cleanup round, I do my first round of editing in the Google Doc with Suggestions turned on. I also leave comments as needed in the document.

If your client will be reviewing your edits in Google Docs, you need to take extra care in how you type out the Suggested Edits so that it’s easier for them to follow visually. That’s because in addition to making it tougher to spot typos you’ve introduced while editing in Google Docs, the Suggested Edits system makes it tougher for clients to visually see what the text will look like when they accept the edits in a paragraph.

If you’re moving a whole paragraph, for instance, it will be a lot cleaner to delete it with Suggested Edits off and then copy and paste it in its new location with Suggested Edits off, and then leave a comment in both places explaining that you moved the paragraph. If you paste it to its new place with Suggested Edits turned on, the whole paragraph will be green. If you then edit the paragraph you’ve moved, the client won’t be able to see any of the individual Suggested Edits inside the moved paragraph.

On a smaller scale, if you’re changing discreet to discrete, consider deleting the entire word and rewriting it rather than tracking changes mid-word. It will be easier for the client to see the edit in the line, and the bubble that explains what you deleted or added will say “Replace discreet with discrete” rather than “Add: t” and “Delete: t.”

3. Download the Google Doc as a Word doc

Simple enough. After you’ve done your first round of editing, download the Google Doc as-is, with all your Suggestions intact.

4. Accept all tracked changes in Word

Open the Word doc. Accept all your changes in Word but leave tracking on.

5. Run PerfectIt and spellcheck (or whatever programs you use)

Once I’ve accepted all the edits in this new Word doc, I keep tracked changes on in Word as I run PerfectIt, even for the cleanup tasks at the end like double spaces. That way you can easily spot things that need to be changed in the Google Doc. (If you did a cleanup round before editing in Google Docs, these tracked changes shouldn’t be overwhelming, unless it’s a huge document.)

After you run PerfectIt and spellcheck, go through each tracked change in the Word doc and make that same change in the Google Doc with Suggestions on. As you apply the change to the Google Doc, accept the edit in the Word doc as well.

After this, you’ll have a clean copy of the Word doc that you can use for your final readthrough.

6. Do your final readthrough in Word and input any edits into the Google Doc (with Suggestions still on)

I’ve found that doing a final readthrough of a clean copy in Word helps me spot mistakes in my Google Doc Suggestions much easier than trying to read between the lines of the Suggestions. The Word doc should read as the Google Doc will once all your Suggestions are accepted, so it allows you to spot stray double spaces or missing spaces, as well as formatting problems.

The key to this step of the process is that whatever errors you spot in the Word doc you will have to fix in the Google Doc with Suggestions still on. If you want, you can also make those changes in the Word doc, which would then be a clean and parallel version of the Google Doc. This might be handy to send to the client to show them what it looks like with all your edits accepted and cleaned up. (But if the client is insistent on Google Docs, that might not provide much value to them anyway.)

After I’ve run PerfectIt and spellcheck and transferred any of those edits into the Google Doc, I read through the Word doc and proofread. When I find an error, I change it in the Google Doc. At the end of the process, the Google Doc is thoroughly edited and the Suggestions are double-checked.

Editing in Google Docs

This isn’t the easiest editing process. It’s a bit convoluted, but it works well if the content you’re editing is short and if your client insists on editing in Google Docs. I suggest hourly contracts for clients who insist that all edits be made in Google Docs, as it will take you extra time and effort. If you’re editing in Google Docs but aren’t able to double-check your work in Word, you’ll want to pay very close attention to how you delete punctuation and spaces, as well as check your work in Preview “Accept All” before sending the edit to the client.

What questions or suggestions do you have about editing in Google Docs? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter at @carolinamarie_v.