Google Drive Collaboration Cheat Sheet

Even if you have been using Google Drive for multi-user collaboration since the day it came out, there is always more to learn. Below are a few tips and tricks I learned while researching the topic for a complete (but quick) guide to Google Drive Collaboration for Attorney at Work:

Using an Existing File to Share

If you upload a Microsoft Office document to Google Drive it automatically converts to a Google document,  sheet or slides (unless you are using the Office Editing for Docs, Sheets & Slides Chrome extension), but it can be downloaded to a .docx format when you are finished editing (go to the File menu and select “Download as” to see all of the options).  If you have a Microsoft Office document that is heavily styled or formatted, though, you will likely lose some or all of the formatting.

Turn on Sharing: The Invitations

If the invitee does not have a Google account she will be invited to create one. One wrinkle: If the invitee does have a Google account, but you used a different email address when inviting her to collaborate, she will need to request access to the document from the email associated with her Google account.

You might not want everyone to have editing rights. You can choose to give invitees edit capability, comment-only, or view-only rights. No matter what level of editing rights they have, they must log in to access the documents. If you click on the (tiny) “Advanced” link in the sharing dialog box you will see more options, such as “Prevent editors from changing access and adding new people” and “Disable options to download, print, and copy for commenters and viewers.” Toggle these on and click “Save changes” to further refine user rights.

Multi-User Editing

Once you have established permissions and invited collaborators, invitees can open the document and begin typing. If several people are in the document at the same time you will notice that their identities will appear at the top of the document as avatars. You can have real-time chat by clicking on the speech bubble icon next to their avatars. You can follow changes made by other users in real time, too, because each user is associated with a color. You can see a colored cursor with their name hovering over it, as their edits appear. If you want to see the last place another user edited, just click on their avatar and to jump to their last edit.

Comments and Suggestions

Like MS Word, comments are preserved with the document. Clicking on a comment in the comment pane will take you to the place in the document the comment references. Users in the document can respond to comments by clicking on the comment box and typing in the “reply.” Once a comment has been responded to and users want to dismiss the comment, simply mouse over the comment box and click the “Resolve” button that appears there to remove the comment thread and archive it. Resolved too soon? Click on “Comments” at the top of the screen, scroll to the closed thread and click to “re-open”.

Much like the Review features in Microsoft Word, Google has “Suggesting” (equivalent to Word’s Track Changes feature).  In the upper right, in the same toolbar as the editing features (like bold, italics, etc.) click on the arrow next to the pen icon and choose “suggestions”. Now, changes will show inline on the document, color coded to the user and also appear in the Comments pane on the right side of the document. There is no accept all/reject all workflow, instead users must accept or reject each change. Users with Comment-only permissions can make suggested changes to the document as well, though only users with edit rights can accept changes.

If you upload a Word document that already has tracked changes, those tracked changes will be converted to suggestions in the Google document. Likewise, suggestions in a Google Doc saved back to .docx and opened in Word will appear as tracked changes.

Version History

One last useful feature to mention in Google docs collaboration is the Revision history. Go to File – See revision history to open a panel that shows all edits and revisions to the document and who made them. You can click on the timestamp in the right panel to see previous version of the file and revert (restore) to previous versions. Restoring to a previous version doesn’t eliminate any versions, but merely moves it to the top of your revision history.

If you want to just see new changes since you last opened a document click on “See new changes” from the File menu. Like versions, added text is highlighted, and deleted text has a strikethrough. This feature is only available for docs.


Google Drive for collaboration with multiple people is as simple or as sophisticated as you need it to be. It reduces reliance on email, addresses version control and is a great way to get a project started.

About Catherine Reach

Catherine Sanders Reach is the Director of Law Practice Management & Technology at the Chicago Bar Association.