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Why You Need to Use Google Docs Templates

As I said yesterday, this week I intend to finish up my three-week series on Google Docs.

I first really recommended Google Docs back in my series “How to Choose Your Writing Software.” In those articles, I talked about the benefits of writing in a program like Microsoft Word, because it allows you to design a beautifully styled and formatted document. And then I’ve talked about the benefits of writing in Google Docs because Docs makes it cheap and easy for you to create notepad-like documents you can access anywhere.

That’s really selling Google Docs short, though. Even though Google Docs isn’t meant to provide rich page formatting, if you know what you’re doing you can handle some pretty amazing document formatting. The most powerful way to do that is with templates.

Filling in the Blanks

Last week I gave you a link to a custom spreadsheet that I designed for blogging, with some really basic color-coded formatting and pre-labeled rows and columns. That was a template, meaning that if you used that link to create a new spreadsheet on your account, you would get a clean copy of it — same formatting, same labels, but none of my information.

From there, all you have to do is fill in the blanks. That’s where yesterday’s story comes into play. A good template is boring — just punch out the pre-cut, interlocking pieces, and stick them together.

In this case, you don’t have to figure out the format or organization for your own blog posting schedule. I decided the calendar format worked great, I came up with development milestones and color codes for each. Just start a new document, type some titles, and record your progress.

That’s incredibly useful any time you need to work with information that’s going to need a pretty standard organization or layout. Here’s just a handful of the most popular examples:

All of these document types benefit from strong templates. You can borrow someone else’s effort, and free yourself up to spend more time writing.

Formatting with Style

Just using templates to provide a framework for your data is far better than starting from a blank slate, but Google Docs templates can get much cooler than that. If you didn’t already, click the links in some of the examples above.

I’ve described templates as “fill-in-the-blanks,” but a good template is more than that — it’s a designed document. It’s already got style. Maybe that’s pretty colors and fancy illustrations, or maybe it’s just tabs. Either way, the formatting you see in those documents helps make them work.

The key to really professional document design isn’t really aesthetics, but simple consistency. If there’s an existing standard (like you’d expect for something like a resume or business letter), you need to be consistent with your reader’s expectations. If you’re designing your own document type (like a project report or novel), you need to choose your own set of formatting rules and apply them consistently throughout.

Either way, you benefit from templates. Templates shine when you use them in conjunction with paragraph styles. Use the Heading 1 style for your book title, Heading 2 for volumes, and Heading 3 for Chapters. Use a custom Caption style for photo captions, and a custom Demonic Dialogue style for those heavily-formatted sections of your novel that involve demons speaking to each other across the page.

Once your document has those styles associated, you can adjust the styles (not the actual bits of text), and update the look and feel of your whole book at once. Better yet, design and adjust those styles in a template, and you can maintain that same professional quality across all the documents of that type that you ever make.

How to Use Google Docs Templates to Make Writing Amazing Documents Easy

Did some of those examples sound a little specific? They should — I’ve been going through this very process for the last week or so.

Making a helpful template in Google Docs is really easy. Making a beautifully-styled and powerfully-designed template can take some advanced work, but it pays dividends when all your future projects benefit from that one-time effort.

Whether you want to save a little bit of time or make your documents fabulous, come back tomorrow. Either way, I’m going to tell you how to make and use your own custom Google Docs templates.

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