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Ian Lamont

How to create links to Google Docs files

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If you do a lot of work in Google Docs, there are times when you may want to create links to Google Docs files so other people can view or edit them. Sharing public links in Google Docs is easy to do, but the menu is buried and some of the options can be a little confusing. In addition, sometimes you may want to add restrictions to limit who can view the Google Docs file or who is allowed to edit the file. These are important considerations if you are collaborating using Google Drive or Google Docs.

The following 3-minute video explains how link sharing works for Google Docs. It covers both public links (viewable by anyone) as well as private links (limited to people you contact or people in your company):

How to embed Google Forms on WordPress or other sites

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In recent months, I have talked about how to create a Google Form and how to change the design. If you use Google Forms to make surveys, scheduling forms, or other online data-entry pages, you may prefer to simply email the Google Forms URL to users or post it on social media. However, there is another way to use Google Forms, that lets you embed Google Forms on WordPress or another type of website. It can be used for all kinds of websites, including corporate websites and WordPress blogs.

There are several advantages of embedding a Google Form on your own website:

  1. The web browser will show your web domain (e.g., in30minutes.com) instead of the Google Forms URL.
  2. You can leverage the branding you may have on the website, such as logos or links to other resources.
  3. Other people may be more likely to use the form if it comes from a trusted source, such as your business URL or an official brand URL.

In order to embed the form on a website, the website will need to allow HTML to be added to a specific page, and you (or someone who has access to the content management system of the website) has the ability to add a line of computer code. This is important, because not all websites allow such access, or you may not know how to do this. However, if you manage your own website or blog, and you are comfortable with copying and pasting, it’s not hard to place Google Forms on WordPress or another type of website.. The following short video shows how, using a WordPress business website as an example.

How to prevent messages from going to the Gmail spam folder

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If you are one of the hundreds of millions of people who use Gmail every day, you may be wondering how to stop messages from certain people or organizations being flagged as spam and placed in the Gmail spam folder. It happens to me all of the time, sometimes with important messages from friends or colleagues or business partners. Even if you use Gmail’s “not spam” button, sometimes the messages are still flagged as spam (false positives) and end up in the Gmail spam folder. After a certain period of time, the messages are automatically deleted — sometimes without you ever knowing they were there!

The video below shows how to stop gmail from flagging spam for email addresses that you choose. In other words, these messages won’t end up in the Gmail spam folder. The video is short, just a few minutes long, and the technique works with the standard consumer version of Gmail as well as the G Suite/Google Apps flavor of Gmail.

How to make a form using the new Google Forms

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I always thought that Google Forms was one of the great, hidden features of the Google Drive/Google Docs suite. Not only did it let users quickly create an online survey form that could be sent to people or inserted into a webpage, the responses were automatically fed back into Google Sheets for sorting and other actions. I wasn’t the only one who was impressed; soon enough I began to see all kinds of other uses of Google Forms, from small businesses setting up appointments to online surveys for startups researching market trends.

Now there is a new Google Forms interface. It is superior to the old interface, looks better, and allows for quicker form creation and data review. As before, Google Forms is free, and in that sense provides a great alternative to Survey Monkey, which locks up some features behind a paywall. While Microsoft’s free online spreadsheet program Excel Online offers a new form creation tool, the interface is positively primitive compared to Google Forms.
Google Forms interface and tutorial

In the short video below I won’t get into all of the details of the new Google Forms interface, but it shows how to set up a basic form. I have also created another video that shows how to change the design of Google Forms.

Google Docs notifications when a file is opened?

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A reader of Google Drive & Docs In 30 Minutes wrote to me with an interesting question involving Google Docs notifications:

I live by myself and my closest relatives live far away.  Should something happen to me, I’d like a way for them to have quick access to some critical information about me: who to contact, financials, and certain passwords.  They should never look at these except under dire circumstances.  In an ideal world, I would be notified if anyone other than me entered the folder.  Next best would be if anyone opened any of the documents.  In this way, if an account of mine were compromised, I could eliminate the info on my Google Drive as the source of the problem.
So the question is whether for the purpose of alerts, merely opening the files triggers an “edit” notification or does it require someone actually saving the document?  Alternative solutions?
It’s a common situation to want to leave instructions and other documents for someone else to open in case of death, injury, or disability. However, regarding the idea to get notified whenever a Google Docs or Google Drive collaborator accesses a folder — this feature does not exist in Google Docs, despite many people requesting it. I understand there is a Google Docs extension called “ezNotifications” (described here) that allows notifications that are associated with edits to the document, but I have not tried it and therefore cannot recommend it.
As for alternatives, Google Sheets does have a notification feature that will alert an account owner whenever a collaborator makes a change, but it does not alert owners when the spreadsheet is opened. I suppose sensitive information could be added to the spreadsheet as text, and edit alerts would be sent to the owner, but there would be no indication to the creator of whether or not it was merely opened by a designated collaborator.
Dropbox also has a feature that alerts owners when any document is changed or updated, but it does not alert for merely opening a document. (I have written a book about Dropbox called Dropbox In 30 Minutes that explains how Dropbox collaboration works).
Finally, planning for personal disaster is a complex topic. Before attempting to distribute documents in case of death or injury, I advise consulting with an estate-planning lawyer who has experience in this area.

How to change the design in Google Forms

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Last year, I wrote a post about how to create a form using the new Google Forms interface. In today’s episode, we’re going to look at how to change the design in Google Forms, Google’s free alternative to Surveymonkey that integrates with Google Sheets and Google Drive.

If you use Google Forms to to gather information from customers or survey a group of people, you can really improve the look of the form by changing its design. There are all kinds of reasons for changing the design:

  1. The default Google Forms design looks too plain.
  2. You want to apply your own design sensibilities to the form
  3. You have branding elements such as logos or special photos you want to incorporate into the design.
  4. You want the form to better match the fonts, colors, and other elements of your product or website.
  5. You think your audience will respond more enthusiastically to a different design.

This last point is not just being considerate of your audience’s aesthetic sensibilities. If different design elements convince more people to start the form and finish it, that means you will get more (and perhaps better) data.

Change the design in Google Forms: Step by step

Changing the design in Google Forms is not hard to do. This quick video will show you how to add photos, change background colors, and alter other design elements of Google Forms:

How to use the Google Docs mobile app to edit MS Word .docx files

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The Google Docs mobile app for Android and iOS now has the ability to edit Microsoft Word .docx files on the go! The following three-minute video shows how it works, using an actual .docx file stored in a Google Drive account and accessed through the Google Docs mobile app for iOS. Note that editing and formatting tools are limited, but at least it gives users a quick way to access and edit Microsoft Word documents when there is no easy access to a desktop computer or laptop.

To see how to edit a .docx file in Google Docs on a PC, Mac, or Chromebook, see our recent posts on this topic.

Edit .docx files in Google Docs using Office Compatibility Mode

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So you have a .docx file, and you want to edit it. A few years ago, you would have needed Microsoft Word to open and edit the file, or you would need to use a workaround, such as uploading the .docx file to Google Drive and converting it to Google Docs for editing. Now, it’s possible to use Google Docs to edit the original .docx file in Google Docs using Office Compatibility Mode–no conversion required!

The following video shows how it works. Keep in mind that editing options for MS Word .docx files in Google Docs are limited to formatting, such as bolding or italicizing text, applying different fonts, aligning text, and adding bullet lists. Advanced Word features involving inserting photos and tables or tracking changes are not supported in Google Docs (at least not yet). The video is less than four minutes long, and if you need more information, I have written about the pros and cons of Office Compatibility Mode in Google Drive.

Google Docs printing basics (and troubleshooting)

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So you are finally using Google Docs as your primary word processing program, and now you need to print out a document. The following short video covers Google Docs printing basics as well as common problems and how to troubleshoot them. Topics include printer setup, saving to PDF, getting rid of unwanted header information, setting orientation (portrait vs. landscape) and other basic information about Google Docs printing issues.