Easy Citations in Google Docs

Digital citizens are constantly sharing other people’s content.  We are all cultivators of stuff.  Images, quotes, GIFs, artwork, you name it – we share it.  It is very important that we teach kids to give credit where credit’s due.

Unfortunately, students are very resistant to citing their sources when they do schoolwork.  Why?  I believe it’s because it’s a pain to do so.  Who would want to cite their source if you have to do tons of sleuth work to figure out who the original source really was?  Who would want to cite their source if you have to enter a boatload of information into a separate site to prepare the citation to put in your document?

In my book, the goal for students, especially those in middle school, should simply be to get them to cite their sources.  I’m not going to stress out about if it really is the accurate original source.  I also wouldn’t stress about them correctly placing their periods and commas in their MLA citation.  I just want them to recognize that the content is not their own and that the originator deserves credit.  Google Docs makes that easy with two tools.  Let’s check them out . . .

Using the Explore Tool in Google Docs

This will only work for resources on the web (not books), but it’s super easy to use.  It creates footnotes, which I’ve heard aren’t commonly used in K-12 writing.  However, as you’ll see in this animation, you can easily copy those footnotes and turn them into a Works Cited.  Check out this GIF to see how:

Using the EasyBib Add-On

This tool is great for citing books, but not as good at citing websites.  It keeps track of your entire bibliography until you’re ready to add it to your doc.  If you are using the Explore tool for your websites, you can just combine them when you’re done, just like I do in the animation below.

Disclaimer: I’ve heard from a few sources that these two tools do not always produce 100% accurate citations.  In my opinion, as stated above, this is a risk that I’m willing to take, at least until students are in college prep high school courses.

Text on Both Sides of Images in Google Docs

When you look at newspapers, magazines or newsletters, you often see centered pictures with 2 separate sets of text on either side of the image.  However, when you center an image in Google Docs and set it as Wrap, the text continues horizontally around the image.  This may be useful sometimes, but in general, doesn’t look like what we’d see in a professional publication.

Now, Columns in Google Docs can help you with this, assuming that you want only 2 or 3 columns and that you want them to be equal widths.  But, what if you want more columns?  Or widths that aren’t equal?

Well, here’s the hack for you.  Create a table, put the picture into the table and use the remaining cells to type your text.  When you’re all done, set your table borders to 0 point (a.k.a. invisible!) and you’re good to go.  Check it out:

Docs Text on Both Sides of Image Animation

Emoji in Google Docs

They’re on your phone.  They’re in a movie.  They’re on clothes.  They’re on social media.  They’re probably tattooed on people.  And yes . . . they’re in Google Docs.

Here’s how to enter Emoji (and other symbols) in Google Docs, Slides or Drawings. Once you click Insert > Special Characters you have 3 options:

  1. Change the dropdown that initially says “Symbol” to say “Emoji” and navigate to the Emoji that you want.
  2. Search by keyword.
  3. Search by drawing the Emoji.

Tip: The emojis are text items, not pictures.  That means that their size is dependent on your selected font size.

Emoji in Docs Animation

AutoText in Google Docs

Improving your efficiency is a great feeling.  Typing the same thing over and over again?  Not such a good feeling.  To add some efficiency, avoid repeatedly typing the same thing and save a few seconds, I’d like to show you how to add some AutoText or AutoComplete automation in Google Docs.

I love using the Chrome Extension “Auto Text Expander,” but it doesn’t work in Google Docs.  So, here’s the solution.  First – a GIF and second – the step-by-step.

Autocomplete in Google Docs Animation

  1. Open a Google Doc.
  2. Go to Tools > Preferences.
  3. In the table, put the shortcut you’d like to type under “Replace.”
  4. Put the corresponding expanded text under “With.”
  5. Click OK.  It will now work in all of your Google Docs on this account.


  • Choose shortcuts that you’ll never type.  You wouldn’t want to use cheese as a shortcut for cheeseburger, because sometimes you just need to type cheese!  Starting shortcuts with a rarely used symbol like a ~ or ^ is a good way to do this.
  • Capital letters won’t work.  I’m not sure why, but if your expanded text is long enough, the hassle of going back to capitalize a few letters is worth it.
  • Note that the options need to be check-marked in the preferences window to work.  This can be convenient if you have shortcuts that you only use sometimes – turn them on when you need them and off when you don’t.

Force Make a Copy

Thou shalt make a copy. – Jake Miller

Ok, so, I never said that.  Well, actually, I guess I just did.  Anyhow, it’s a trick that’s known in most edtech circles, but it’s useful enough to make sure that everyone knows it:

Change the “/edit” or “/view” (or whatever) at the end of a Google Apps file’s URL to “/copy” and it will force the person clicking the link to make a copy of it (as if they had clicked File > Make a Copy).

Important: make sure the doc is shared, at least as “Can View,” prior to using this.  You can’t copy a doc that you can’t view!

With the rise of Google Classroom and other LMS options, it’s not as useful as it used to be, but it has its use cases: sharing a resource on your website, posting forms for use in your school district, sharing optional activities for classes or clubs and much more.  It works in Drawings, Sheets and Slides as well! Here’s how to do it:

Force Make a Copy Animation

Just in case, here are those steps:

  1. Share the doc as “Anyone with the Link Can View.”
  2. Copy the link to the doc.
  3. Change the “/edit” or “/view” or “/edit?usp=sharing” to “/copy

The Text Styles Dropdown in Google Docs – Why it’s useful & how to update your Defaults

Efficiency is intelligent laziness.

This pretty well summarizes my approach to use of technology.  If I can find a way to trim seconds or minutes off tasks without sacrificing quality, I’m all for it.

In recent posts about Google Docs, I shared how to boost font formatting efficiency with the Paint Format Tool and the Select Matching Text option.  This post’s topic fits well with those 2.

Most people type in Google Docs and change fonts as needed without ever noticing the Text Styles dropdown.  They live in “Normal Text” mode, but change their fonts regularly.  But they are missing out!  There is hidden functionality in that dropdown . . .

  1. It allows you to change your default font styles.  Are you an elementary school teacher who always types in size 16 font?  Change your default!  Are you a professional basketball team owner who always types in Comic Sans?  Change your default!  Do you believe that Helvetica is the world’s best font?  Double-space all of the time?  Prefer blue font?  Like size 13?  Always typing in italics?  Change your default!
  2. Using titles & headings adds other functionalities to your Doc.  Do you have a 100-page Google Doc for your lesson plans and hate trying to navigate it to find the correct snippet?  Use Headings & Document Outline view!  Here’s how . . .

The quote at the top is often credited to David Dunham, though it appears that he’s not the originator of the quote).