Drafts and Google docs

Google docs and DRIVE AND DRAFTS, oh my!

I use Goole docs extensively in my research and teaching. In fact, since I use Google sites to house my course webs, one might say, and correctly so, that my entire class is in the “cloud”. That said, many student’s wrote last week about how great google docs was as a writing tool. One student though noted thought, that the drafting process is integrated into one seamless document which is somewhat a problem, because you are left without a paper trail.  I totally agree and decided to draft this post to articulate a few ways to deal with this issue.

First if you are new to using Google docs, you will need a primer to understand the next few paragraphs. A good one on what Drive and Docs does is here, and here if you prefer to read instead of watch. 

Revision history, is it good enough?

Google docs keeps a revision history for each document. It is found under Files in the menu. It allows you to get back to the versions of the document found on a particular date or possibly time of day. This feature is great for recovering past documents, even if you just need a portion. However, it falls short when you want to maintain drafts. 

Making a copy

One way to essentially circumvent Docs and actually create drafts is to periodically save out a copy. I recommend that every couple of weeks, whether or not your are working in a group, that you save out a DRAFT of your work. This is most easily accomplished through Docs main menu. Goto File “make a copy”. Give the file the name Draft, and then continue to work in the document you are in. The DRAFT version of your doc then is a snapshot of the work completed up until that time. If you plan work across an extended period of weeks, you might want to name the DRAFTS with a date. Using a name like, DRAFT 08-05-16 allows you to easily see when it was saved. Or instead, you can just use the generic “DRAFT 1”, “DRAFT 2” nomenclature. 

You’ve Been Cut

Additionally, I also recommend while in the document, don’t just willy-nilly cut things from the doc, especially when working with a group. Instead, create a section at the bottom of your document named “You’ve Been Cut” and move all of the cut or removed sections to this area. That way, if a day later you want to get back some text that was written but removed earlier,  it is easy to find at the bottom of the document and not stuck in a DRAFT version.  Utilizing a “You’ve been cut” process will help you to cut down on needed drafts, as well. 

Limitations (or potential issues)

There are a couple of snags in this process. 1) Docs does not copy comments. Therefore, none of your DRAFTS will retain comments from the document. This is not a problem if you don’t switch documents. Instead (like I recommended above) just continue working in the original document and only save out a document for your records. 2) You need to have an organizational schema (ie, folder) that supports this process. Without having a folder to contain your work,  the drafts and main working document end up all over the place. And Google drive is not the easiest thing to search. 3) You should keep a redundant copy of your google drive files on some computer somewhere. This is practical as well as good common sense. This copy allows you to access your files when (if) the net goes down. AND it serves as a full backup to your work. Remember Google drive is essentially free; free means Drive could just go away (hopefully, not without warning). But, you might as well be safe than sorry.  

Give Your Work Structure

To that end, for every project in Drive create a structure that suits your needs. At the very least, start with a Folder that you. (For team work, you would share the folder with edit privileges to the entire team). Name it intelligently so that you can find it. For example, I have my  research folders organized into “Articles”, “Conferences”, and “Workshops”. When I begin a new project, I make a new folder and name it for the project (for example, “TapStudy”) and then add it the appropriate larger folder (ie, “Articles”). Next I start a document, which I call “WIP-Tapstudy”, where WIP stands for Work In Progress. I make this document inside the Tapstudy folder. Also in the folder, I create a research folder (ie., “Papers”) and a draft folder (ie. “Drafts”). Then every few weeks, I create a copy of my working document and name it with DRAFT at the end (ie., Tapstudy Draft1). I then save this DRAFT to the drafts folder. I continue my work in the WIP document (ie., WIP-Tapstudy).

Google Document Outline

And while I’m here, let me just leave with one more comment about navigating inside long Google documents. Recently, the awesome folks at Google added a Document Outline feature to Google Docs. To access it, go to Tools and then “Document outline”.  This is a toggled feature which can be on or off for the document you are in. Turning this feature on reveals in the margin, an outline of the document you are in. The outline uses the headings (through the use of Styles) that you have placed in the document. (If you need some help understanding styles go here). Once you have the correct headings in your document, you can use the Document outline to help navigate in the document. Simply clicking on a heading, takes you directly to the where the heading is in the document. Therefore, if you label the “You’ve been cut” as a heading, you can quickly move to the section to deposit text, without a whole lot of needless scrolling.


Working with Docs in this way, gives you not only a repository of your drafts (saved to your Drafts folder), but a document that is easy to use, with sections that are easy to find (using the Document outline). Additionally, the WIP document you are working in (with/or without collaborators) maintains all of the comments, with the most recent changes (in the Revision history), and the most recent cuts (in the You’ve been cut section).And if you if you want/need DRAFTS, now you can make them without any additional stress. 

Remember, Google Drive technology is built to be unobtrusive and easy to use, allowing your creative and collaborative juices to flow. 

(Just make sure to check the required word counts before you submit your work 😉



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