Teaching Examples

Working smarter: Uses for Google Docs and Spreadsheets
May 30, 2007, 5:13 pm
Filed under: online, tools

I often run into journalists (and others) who have never heard of Google Docs and Spreadsheets. This free online software suite can really come in handy for a variety of situations.

Basically, it’s like having your MS Word documents and MS Excel spreadsheets online, but private and secure from prying eyes. Unless you choose to let someone else see them. And if you need to convert, either from Microsoft to Google or the opposite, that’s easy to do. Check the online Help files if you have any questions.

You will need a Gmail account, but I can hardly imagine that you wouldn’t already have one! (Still using Yahoo! mail? Good heavens, WHY?)

Here’s the latest thing I did with Google Docs that saved me a ton of time: I received a highly formatted MS Word file from a colleague. It had headings, italics, boldface, indents — all kinds of formatting, all over it. I had to put this thing on a Web page. I mean, I had to transfer the information to a Web-readable, proper HTML file.

The worst possible way to do it would be to copy from Word and paste into Dreamweaver. Because of the way MS Word works, this will carry all kinds of unnecessary and difficulty-causing code into your HTML — not at all what you want!

The usual way I would do it would be to copy from Word, paste into a plain-text editor, then copy from there, and paste into Dreamweaver. However, that method loses all the formatting. For a typical memo, this method works fine. For my super-duper formatted document, it would have meant hours of re-formatting.

Google Docs to the rescue!

I copied the document from Word and pasted into a new, blank Google Doc. Then I de-selected the text. And straight from the surface text (DO NOT view source), I copied, then pasted into Dreamweaver (Design view). Perfect! Headings, italics, boldface, indents — all preserved, in standards-compliant HTML.

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14 Comments so far
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I love it just because I can edit my documents from any computer. I’ve got my “Thing to Blog” list on there so I can update it any time. Very convenient. Especially b/c my new home computer doesn’t have Microsoft Office.

Comment by Angela Grant

For a while when I was constantly using three different computers (an office PC, my home PC, and a laptop), I was using Google Docs for all of my word processing. Since everything you write is stored online, you can switch computers and continue working on a document seamlessly without having to wonder whether you’d remembered to copy the latest version of the document to the computer you’re working on.

Comment by Brad Linder

The only problem I’ve had — and I did this two weekends ago — is sometimes I’m traveling by air and I want to work on the plane and — doh! That document is only online! Dang it!

Comment by Mindy McAdams

As always, Google has read your mind: Google Gears Lets Developers Take Apps Offline.

Comment by William M. Hartnett

Wouldn’t it be easier to simply upload the Word Doc in Google Docs and then “save as” html? I just tried it and it works fine. Save you a few more steps.

Comment by Newspaperman

Oh you are so behind the times. 😉 Macromedia built a really good “Import Word Document” command into MX04. It lets you pick what sorts of formatting it converts and/or skips. I’ll admit it took me a while to discover it, but I have been using it for (probably) years (or a long time).

Your tip would probably work great for converting stuff from Outlook via the clipboard though, which is my current nemesis.

Comment by Craig

Interesting use of Google Docs. Thank you for sharing.

Google Gears is something I haven’t tried yet – I think it was released like, duhh, yesterday?

Comment by Barbara Gavin

Newspaperman: You’ve stumped me. I just tried to do what you said, and I can’t find any “Save as HTML” option in Google Docs. When you import the actual Word file (instead of pasting it), you still get all that MS Word crapola in the code. That stuff is poison.

Comment by Mindy McAdams

WMH: “The plugin is a 700K download for Firefox 1.5+ and Internet Explorer 6.0+ that installs three developer APIs.” Maybe the answer to my prayers … or maybe too much Google in my system!

I am so devoted to my Google calendar, sometimes it worries me.

Comment by Mindy McAdams

Craig: I tried the import in Dreamweaver 8. It worked well, except for two things: (1) It took longer than the copying and pasting (probably because of all the formatting in the Word doc); (2) There was a very large number of &-n-b-s-p’s in the imported version. In the Google Docs version, I did not have those! But that import feature is good to know about — thanks!

Comment by Mindy McAdams

Gmail? Yahoo mail? Am I the only poor sucker using e-mail through an ISP so I can check it through a Web interface AND keep it in Outlook?

I also have AOL (free now) and Hotmail (just to confuse spammers).

Am I supposed to get Gmail just for cultural literacy? What does it do? Will it aerate my lawn?

I’m interested in Google Docs, though. I hope Yahoo copies it soon so I can integrate it with my fantasy teams. (Honestly, what’s the big deal about Google? They don’t even have fantasy sports.)

Comment by bdure

Fantasy sports? What’s that? 😀

Comment by Mindy McAdams

Yes, import takes longer, but less time than cleaning up after a paste would. Yes, I agree on the &-n-b-s-p-;’s. I habitually run a global code search and replace of “&-n-b-s-p-; ” to ” “, which is fast. Many of those are artifacts from people who learned to always type two spaces after a period and haven’t gotten a ruler across the knuckles from Robin Williams, even after 20 years of DTP.

Comment by Craig

Talk about Google addictions, mine is just about as severe as they come. (And you can add FeedBurner to that list, now that it’s part of the ever-expanding Google-verse.)

@bdure: You can enable POP3 access in Gmail and continue using your local e-mail client. You also can use Gmail to send e-mail under a different address. So if you’re forwarding all your you@work.com mail to Gmail, for example, you can respond to it in Gmail as you@work.com

Comment by William M. Hartnett

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