Research, Teaching

How Google Docs Changed My Life

The title of this post might be a bit hyperbolic, but I really do mean it. I have been using Google Docs on-and-off for the past few years, mostly as a way of collaborating with other graduate students to organize events and share meeting notes. But it wasn’t until this past summer when I opened up a fresh Google Doc to begin drafting the second chapter of my dissertation that I began to realize its amazing capabilities.

One of the main reasons why I decided to try writing in Google Docs was because I was getting frustrated by the amount of clutter in the massive dissertation file I created on Scrivener. Since I’m the kind of person who is always trying to find more effective ways of organizing my research and writing, a program like Scrivener seemed like a godsend- It offers a way of collecting drafts and research materials and notes into different folders as well as the option to split your screen in two so you can edit one document while reviewing another, not to mention tons of features that I have not yet learned how to use. But the main drawbacks to Scrivener, at least for me, was the complexity of the layout (a dizzying amount of buttons and lists) and the tediousness of having to constantly convert my files to share with non-Scrivener users. Google Docs solved these dilemmas beautifully.

 The first thing that struck me about writing in a Google Doc, something that I had never noticed before, was its clean layout. I love the default font and line-spacing settings, which makes reading your work a lot easier on the eyes. But the feature that really “converted” me was the free “table of contents” add-on, which allows you to create clickable headings and sub-headings throughout your document. This option was a real game-changer because it helped me breakdown long chapters into sections that I could move between with a click of a button. The ability to visualize the shape of a chapter by glancing at the table of contexts has also helped me better organize my thoughts and writing.

In addition to these useful aesthetic features, Google Docs invites collaboration in ways that continue to amaze me. Since I regularly share my writing with my sister it was a pain to constantly convert and email my Scrivener files to her each week. But in Google Docs I just have to share a folder or document with her once and she can continue to access it whenever she wants. The “insert comment” feature on Google Doc also allows us to engage in a real dialogue about our work because it enables replying to each other’s notes and suggestions, which is something that I have always thought was sorely missing from the review functions in Microsoft Word.

Knowing what I do now about Google Docs makes me more excited than ever about its pedagogical potential. I have recently learned from several events hosted by the Futures Initiative at the Graduate Center that Google Docs can serve as a platform for a crowdsourced syllabus, an idea that our student-run group, Mentoring Future Faculty of Color, applied to an  event we hosted last semester on “Teaching #BlackLivesMatter: Countering the Pedagogies of Anti-Black Racism.” It was a wonderful opportunity to share the kinds of texts we might bring into our classes to address the violences and injustices surrounding the cases of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. (You can continue to access that syllabus here). By allowing multiple authors to be in conversation with each other, Google Docs can be a powerful tool for thinking about the possibilities of critical engagement both inside and outside of the classroom.

Finally, if you are still on the fence about Google Docs, here are a few other reasons you might want to give it a shot:

  • Google Docs can be easily downloaded into numerous formats, including Microsoft Word and PDF files, so you don’t have to worry about compatibility with your other programs. (You can also convert existing files into Google Docs format).
  • There is an offline function that allows you to access your documents and create new files without a wi-fi connection. They automatically get synced and saved into your Google Drive the next time you you have an internet connection.

That’s all for now, but I would love to hear your thoughts on other features and applications for Google Docs in the comments!

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