Google Drive apps are loved for their simplicity and ease of use, but don’t let that fool you. There’s a whole lot of power locked up in these web apps. And while we’d never put the suite on a par with Microsoft Office, there are some impressive features in Docs, Sheets, and Slides that you’ve likely overlooked.
We’ve highlighted some of the newest features and hidden gems that can help save you time and anguish and create documents that are sure to impress your professors, colleagues, and most importantly, your boss.
Docs has research power
In our mostly paperless world text is interactive, and readers often expect links to connect to related articles. Citing your sources correctly in an article or academic paper is imperative to provide a research trail and give credit to the authors whose work you reference. Google Docs has a couple of tools to simplify this otherwise cumbersome task.
The Research Tool adds a quick citation system on top of Google’s search prowess. To launch the Research tool, click Tools > Research. You can also use keyboard shortcuts: Ctrl-⌘-Shift-l on a Mac and Ctrl-Alt-Shift-I on a PC.
The tool is blank when first opened, but it will begin to auto-suggest research topics based on what you write.
The tool has seven search options: Everything (which conducts a Google search), Images, Scholar (which filters by academic resources), Quotes, Dictionary, Personal, and Tables.
To search, click inside the box, select your search option and start typing. When you hover over a selection, you’ll see three choices: preview, cite, and link. The cite feature can make inserting MLA, APA, or Chicago style reference citations a walk in the park. Select the style of citation and Docs will insert a superscript numeral and add the note to the bottom of the page. (You’ll get the most accurate preview if you do this in Print layout.)
This feature doesn’t replace a proper “Works Cited” section required of most papers, but it will give you the content in the right format and make the in-text citation process significantly smoother.
Power Linking is even faster than using the Research Tool if you need to add a lot of links to an article or other document. To use it, highlight the target text and click Control-K or ⌘-K. The search menu will then auto-suggest a link. If one of the suggestions is what you are looking for, just click it, select Insert and you’re done. If your initial search doesn’t yield what you need, change the text in the search box to more specifically match your target.
Conquer surveys and data with Sheets
Unless you’re an Excel power user, Google’s Sheets is probably full-featured enough to handle most spreadsheet needs. The app also has some pretty cool capabilities when it comes to making sense of data.
Creating charts in Sheets
You can very quickly create a chart from a Google Sheet and make yourself look like a data whiz.
To do so, select the Chart icon on the menu bar or choose Insert > Chart. This will bring up the chart editor box. In the Start tab you can then edit the range of cells and choose from a variety of layout settings. It also suggests some recommended charts based on the type of data you have. If you don’t like any of those, select from the other options by clicking More. Click Insert to put the chart in your spreadsheet.
Another powerful feature that flies under the radar is the ability for Sheets to create a map out of location-based data. For example, if you have population data or other kinds of results from various countries, you can create a chart that will visually represent this. The data will need to include specific locations in the cells in order for the command to work.
To begin, click the Charts tab and select Map.
Next, choose the GeoMap option. In the Customize tab, you can change the colors that appear on your map. There are many different kinds of charts and methods for representing trending data in Sheets. Once you have these two features down, you should be able to experiment and master any of the different options in this feature.
Slides solves the groupwork dilemma
Google Slides doesn’t have the template offerings of PowerPoint or the visual elegance of Keynote, but it will make your life significantly easier when you’re saddled with that group project. You can collaborate on a Google Slide the same way you would with Docs or Sheets.
You can also upload a PowerPoint file, convert it to a Slides presentation, and work away—Drive does a very good job of keeping the look and feel of the deck consistent. To upload a PowerPoint presentation, locate the file on your computer and drag it into the Drive interface. Select the box that converts the file to the proper Google Drive format.
Once you have your Slides presentation started, invite others to view and/or edit the presentation.
You can even embed a presentation on a Google Site. In Sites, click the select Insert > Drive > Presentation. Anyone who navigates to your site can then click through the slides directly from the webpage.
To insert the presentation into your personal or company website, click File > Publish to the web… In the dialog box that pops up, copy the HTML from the box labeled ‘Embed code’ and paste it into the HTML of your website. Click OK when you’re done.
This feature also works with other Google Drive files, allowing you to quickly display any of your work to others.
Use Hangouts for face-to-face collaboration
Google’s Hangouts shouldn’t be overlooked when it comes to working together on a project. Google built Apps-specific widgets into Hangouts, so a team can participate in a video chat while editing a file.
To do this, launch a video hangout and click the Drive icon on the left-side of the screen. Then you and any of the other members of the hangout will be able to discuss specific contents of the file in real-time.
This screen-sharing capability is an excellent way to bring extra clarity to an issue that may be vexing a team or may make discussion easier face-to-face.
Hangouts also works across desktop and mobile, so you can reach out to a team member if they have the Hangouts app installed on their phone or tablet.
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Derek Walter is a freelance technology writer based in Northern California. He is the author of Learning MIT App Inventor, a hands-on guide to building your own Android apps.