Josh Boldt

Technology Director at University of Kentucky

The Best New Google Docs Tools for Teachers and Students

What software do you use for writing? Are you a Google Docs acolyte or an MS Word devotee? We've started a discussion thread. Let's talk about writing apps here.

Here’s a small piece of news that might mean a lot to teachers who assign research papers—and to the students who write them.

Last week, Google released some new features for Google Docs, its web-based word-processing software. The updates include a new item in your menu bar, called Add-ons, that gives writers access to a wide selection of new, third-party tools. Several of these apps are specifically designed for writing and evaluating research work.

The best thing about these new tools? They’re free! This release from Google marks one fewer reason for teachers and students to depend on Microsoft Word, the proprietary and expensive software that has traditionally dominated the paper-writing process. Definitely welcome news for students (and adjuncts) on tight budgets.

Let’s take a look at a few of the highlights for teachers and students. You can find all of these apps by selecting “Get add-ons…” from the Add-ons pulldown menu and searching for the tool by name.

Track Changes

This is really the only reason I haven’t fully integrated Google Docs into my classroom yet. Prior to this new add-on, teachers could comment in the margins of student papers, but it was pretty difficult to make clear suggestions within the actual body of the text.

Personally, I never felt comfortable abandoning the markup capability afforded by Microsoft Word, because I like to make occasional corrections and suggestions within the body of student papers. The Track Changes add-on for Google Docs finally makes those in-text edits easy.

The interface looks a little different than it does with Word—the changelog appears in the right margin, for example, which is only the case with certain Word view options. It takes a little practice to get the hang of it, but this new add-on can essentially do anything you would expect a Track Changes feature to do.

EasyBib Bibliography Creator

According to its description, the EasyBib add-on can “automatically cite books, journal articles, and websites just by entering in the titles or URLs,” and it can format these citations in MLA, APA, and Chicago style.

This add-on opens a search box in the right margin that allows writers to conduct research directly from the editing screen itself. You can search among books, journal articles, or websites.

Then, after finishing their papers, writers can simply click the Generate Bibliography button. All citations will be alphabetized and added to the bottom of the paper in whichever format the author chooses. Could this be the end of the citation handbook as we know it?

Easy Header and Footer

Google Docs’ header and footer situation was (and still is) kind of weak. At least with this add-on, you can now easily import headers and footers from other documents. A step in the right direction for sure.

Table of Contents

This add-on will come in handy for long research papers. It can generate a table of contents in the margin of any Google Doc; that table will automatically be hyperlinked to correspond with chapters or heading sections in the paper.


Pretty self-explanatory. Highlight a word and access a thesaurus tool from within Google Docs. You know, instead of opening a new tab and googling it.

According to Google, this release is only the first round of new tools for their Google Drive suite. I’m looking forward to what comes next.

For more information on the new add-ons for Google Docs, check out this video posted by the company at its Google Drive blog.

So, how about you? Do you use Google Docs in your classes?

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