Useful tools for formatting complex documents in Google Docs

Useful tools for formatting complex documents in Google Docs

Millions of people use Google Docs every day to write novels, essays, resumes, recipes, and thousands of other projects. In all of these things, organizing – in documents and beyond – can give you more time to focus on the act of creation rather than looking for that section that only needs some extra adjustment to make it perfect. This article looks at the tools to help you better format your documents in Google Docs.

Broad outlines

The best way to start a longer project is with a plan. For Google Docs, that means starting to define your structure with Header Styles, the first three of which are available in the toolbar, where, by default, it says Paragraph. Access additional layers using “Format -> Paragraph Styles”.

Image showing a document with the outline pane visible.

The map is available on the left of your page. To display it, select “Display -> Display document plan”. In the Outline pane, your titles automatically become links, allowing you to browse the document without endless scrolling. When you hover over a header, the X icon on the right won’t remove the section but will remove it from your outline.


Image showing the two options for creating a table of contents in Google Docs.Image showing the two options for creating a table of contents in Google Docs.

The same document structure used for plans can also be used to create a table of contents. The difference here is that the ToC is created for use by the reader. Two options are available. For the printed distribution, select the first option in “Insert -> Table of contents”. This creates the list and adds page numbers.

For online distribution, choose the second option, which will add standard hyperlinks to each section. If you are making major changes to your text, don’t forget to go back and refresh the ToC using the icon that appears when you select the frame. Text in the table of contents can be formatted like any other text.

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Document bookmarks create anchors in a document and can be used to navigate work that can be spread across different files, folders, or accounts. If you have access to the document, click on a bookmark link to go to that particular location. This is ideal for creating large-scale or collaborative documents.

Image showing the icon present after a bookmark is added to a page.Image showing the icon present after a bookmark is added to a page.

To add one, place the cursor where you want to create a link and select “Insert -> Bookmark”. A little blue icon will appear next to it, and clicking on it will give you the option to copy a link or remove the bookmark. Bookmarks are great when you need to come back and work on a section. I use them to connect notes in Google Keep to sections that need more work.

Document break

There are three ways to add clippings to a document. The first of these is a page break and will just put any content following it on a new page. This can be useful for the end of a chapter or to avoid widowed or orphan lines in your text. When using it, you should go back and check for falling lines on your pages in case your page breaks did something strange.

Image showing section breaks options in Google Docs.Image showing section breaks options in Google Docs.

Page breaks are treated like any other page content; they can be deleted by placing the cursor below and pressing the backspace key.

Section breaks are more useful in that they can be “continuous”, which means that the content will run on the same page as the page break, or “next page”, which will always include a page break. before the next section. Sections can also have their own margin settings, which is especially useful in technical projects.

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Section breaks are more persistent than page breaks. To get rid of them, first make them visible (“View -> Show section breaks”), then place your cursor on the end of the line above the break and press the button Remove touch twice. Note that this will also remove the first letter of your next section.

Project links

Image showing some of the link options in Google Docs.Image showing some of the link options in Google Docs.

If your project becomes too complex, it may be better to split it into several documents, in which case the “Insert -> Link” option will be very useful. Highlight a piece of text and select it, and you will have the option to link to any of the items you set up previously (headers or bookmarks) or a web item linked to your highlighted text, which is great for research.

This dialog also offers some suggested links to your own documents on Drive related to the highlighted word. You can also click “Learn More,” which will open a pane on the right with suggestions from the web, Google Images, or your own Drive folders. You can also, of course, just paste a URL, such as the one created from the Bookmarks tool above.

Beyond working and formatting your documents in Google Docs, you can also cite articles in your documents, add signatures, and compare two documents in Google Docs.

Also check out other tips and tricks on Google Docs.


Andy Channelle

Andy Channelle is a writer and web developer who has written for Linux Format, Mac Format, 3D World, and others, and has also published bestselling books on Ubuntu Linux and He recently worked on web projects and campaigns for the International Red Cross and the UN. It produces – but hardly ever publishes – electronics under the name Collision Detector. Andy lives in Wales, UK.

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