10 extremely handy features hidden in Google's office apps

Don't overlook these handy, hidden Google Docs and Google Drive features.

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Useful elements

Google’s cloud-based office apps are frequently updated with necessary improvements to their feature set and UI. Here are 10 useful, yet less-than-obvious Google Docs and Google Drive features that were added recently. 

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Automatic charts -- Google Sheets

Google Sheets has a tool called Explore that automatically analyzes a column or row to determine if any data on it can be presented in chart form. If so, a green icon button with the word Explore appears on the lower-right corner of the spreadsheet page you’re viewing in the browser window. (If not, this icon button is grayed out.) Click it, and a sidebar opens over the right side of the spreadsheet page, showing you the charts Explore was able to generate from the data, which you can click to view in larger size or examine their insights, or drag-and-drop into your spreadsheet.

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Automatic outlining -- Google Docs

Select “Document outline” under the Tools menu on the Google Docs toolbar, and an outline of your document that’s opened in Google Docs will be generated whenever you enter or format a line of text as a heading in your document. A navigation bar appears to the left of your document, showing a list of outline headings. Clicking a heading in this outline will jump the cursor to the part of the document where it starts.

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Sharable custom maps -- Google Drive

Tucked away in Google Drive is the Google My Maps app. You access it by clicking the big red “New” button on the main Google Drive page, selecting “More” in the pop-up menu and finally Google My Maps. This same tool is also found within the Google Maps page, where it’s listed as My Maps under the Google Maps sidebar. With it, you can create customized maps through Google Maps. An example could be: a road trip itinerary that plots your driving route and pinpoints destinations you want to visit along the way. Your maps are automatically saved to your Google Drive, where each map is listed like a file that you can share with other people (as a link) and invite them to collaborate with you on it.

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Disable downloading, printing, copying of any shared file -- Google Drive

You can prevent a document, slideshow or spreadsheet that you share with others from being downloaded or printed. This action also locks out the ability to copy text or other elements. Turning on this restriction may not be immediately apparent: On the “Share with others” panel, it’s listed under “Advanced,” which when clicked takes you to another panel that has the checkbox “Disable options to download, print, and copy for commenters and viewers”.

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Drag-and-drop files to upload them -- Google Drive

When your Google Drive page is open in either Chrome or Firefox, you can upload a file stored on your computer to your account by dragging it from your computer and dropping it upon a folder or the main file list on the Google Drive page. This function might not be too useful on a notebook with a small screen, so it works best if you use a large display and often keep a browser and file manager open at the same time, sharing the desktop area.

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Make ebooks -- Google Docs

Aspire to be an ebook author? You can easily produce ebooks straight from Google Docs—and they can even contain images—by exporting your document so that it can be read on an e-reader device that supports the .epub format. Under the File menu on the Google Docs toolbar, select “Download as” and then “EPUB Publication.” In our testing, this function successfully exported documents with color images embedded in them into an .epub file that was then viewable on a Nook.

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Quick commenting -- Google Docs

Highlighting text, images or other items in a document causes a button to appear to the right. Click it and you can type in a brief comment in reference to the highlighted item. This comment will then appear as a card that floats off to the right of the document. Every comment you add for other items you highlight in your document will appear as another card to the right.

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Voice typing and voice commands -- Google Docs

If you’re using Chrome, Google Docs can turn your spoken words into text, inserting them into your document. Switch this on by clicking Tools on the toolbar and selecting “Voice typing.” This feature works best if you speak clearly and slowly -- such technology cannot instantly transcribe a breezy, casual conversation -- and wearing a headset with a microphone can also improve accuracy. Google Docs’ voice typing recognizes over 40 languages. You can even issue document editing and formatting, as well as navigation commands by voice. The tool recognizes several phrases as commands, which will pause its transcribing, to execute: “Select word,” “select all,” “align right,” “italicize,” “go to end of page,” etc..

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Search for regular expressions -- Google Docs

Similar to how it works in Google Sheets and other spreadsheet applications, you can also search for a regular expression under Google Docs. This means you can search your document for lists of words or patterns of text, instead of just specific words, phrases or text characters. (An example would be looking up all ZIP codes that appear in a document.) Under the Edit menu, select “Find and replace...” and then check the box next to “Match using regular expressions. On the support page for this feature, you can check out a list of expressions that are commonly used for this kind of search.

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Search for files using natural language -- Google Drive

The search box in Google Drive utilizes Natural Language Processing (NLP), just like the main Google search site does. This means you can type conversational style phrases into the search box to find certain files stored on your Google Drive, like “find my resume” or “show me pictures that I uploaded in August.”

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