One advantage of using Google Docs is that it always saves your work automatically. Another is that Google keeps a history of all the changes you make to a document. Since you have access to your version history in Google Docs, you can restore an older version of a file or make a copy of an earlier version and spin it off into a different project.
Note that you can only see and retrieve earlier versions of files if you have editing permission. If someone shares a file with you and gives you read-only permission, you won’t be able to see its history. Note, too, that the business version of Google Docs is called G Suite; these tips should work for either version.
How to See Older Versions of a Google Doc
You can see a list of the revision history for any Google Doc in three ways. 1. From the menu, choose File > Version History > See Version History. 2. Use the Windows shortcut Ctrl+Alt+Shift+H or Command+Option+Shift+H on macOS. 3. Click on the group of underlined words just to the right of the Help menu. These words change depending on the file’s state. When you’re actively working on a document, it reads, “Saving…” and that’s the only time you can’t click on it. Otherwise, it says, “All changes saved in Drive” or “Last edit was made on” followed by the date. Click either of those, and your version history appears.
A list of your document history appears in a new column on the right. Individuals versions are collapsed under a header for each date. Expand any one of them to see more granularity in the changes. To return to the current version, click the Back arrow at the top left of the window. Be aware that you may not have a perfect history, however, as Google states in its documentation that “revisions for your file may occasionally be merged to save storage space.”
How to Restore a Version of a Google Doc
Once you have access to your version history of a Google Doc, you can restore any prior version. From the list of versions that appears on the right, simply click on the file you want to open it.
A large blue button appears at the top of the window that says “Restore this version.” If you restore the selected version, you still keep all the other versions, even those that were created after the currently selected one.
How to Make a Copy of an Earlier Version of a Google Doc
In addition to restoring an old version of a file, you can make a copy of it. Making a copy allows you to quickly spin out different versions of the same file. For example, it’s a great trick when applying for jobs and you want to make each resume and cover letter unique, but you don’t want to start from scratch every time.
Tips for Editing and Version Control in Google Docs
1) Name Your Versions
Now that you know how to find your revision history in Google Docs, you can get more out of it by naming different versions. By naming them, you can easily identify the versions that you might want to restore later or spin out for another purpose. If you don’t rename them, the default name will be the time and date stamp. You can rename them by using one of these methods:
- Open your version history, click the icon with three dots, and select Name this Version.
- From the menu, choose File > Version history > Name current version.
2) Track Changes in Google Docs
At the top right side of the menu bar is a menu button that says Editing by default. Click it, and two new options appear: Suggesting and Viewing.
When you toggle to Suggesting, it essentially enables track changes in the document. When you and your collaborators use it, Google Docs saves all your new material and changes as suggestions. They appear in a different color to make them easily visible. You can accept them or reject them one by one or en masse.
3) Use the Commenting Tool for Questions and Discussions
Writers and editors often learn the hard way that putting comments inline with the material being produced means it can be accidentally published with the final copy. Google Docs has a commenting tool that allows authors and editors to discuss the content without putting unnecessary words onto the page. You’ll be thankful you used it.
4) Use @ Messaging
Call someone’s attention to an edit or comment by using @ messaging—or maybe I should say + messaging, as Google uses a different symbol that most other apps. In fact, if you type @ instead of +, Google changes it for you.
To flag someone’s attention, create a comment, then type a plus sign (+) followed by the person’s name or email address. Google auto-suggests the closest match from your Contacts. If the person isn’t in your Contacts yet, simply enter their email address. Take your time and get it right before you hit enter. Whatever you type goes to that person via email immediately, along with a link to the document. If you make changes to the comment, the person gets alerts about those, too. So spare them the spam and think through your comments before pressing enter.
5) Write and Edit Offline in Google Docs/Drive
Did you know you can use Google Docs even when your computer or mobile device isn’t connected to the internet? You can. My colleague Eric Ravenscraft wrote a whole article on how to set up Google Drive offline, complete with step-by-step instructions.
6) Disable Email Alerts
If you use G Suite to write and edit a lot, getting an email for every single change in a document can be a nuisance. Here’s how to disable these notifications. Go to Google drive. Click the gear icon in the upper right and open your settings. On the left side, select Notifications, and then uncheck the box for Email.