Skip to ContentGo to accessibility pageKeyboard shortcuts menu
OpenStax Logo
Workplace Software and Skills

3.7 Formatting Layout and Content in Google Docs

Workplace Software and Skills3.7 Formatting Layout and Content in Google Docs

Learning Objectives

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Modify document formatting
  • Create different types of sections
  • Modify the page setup

Your market trends report is coming along in Google Docs. In this section, you’ll learn how to format it and modify the page setup, similar to the way we modified the document in Microsoft Word. We are starting with the same information that we used in the previous sections, and instead now learning how to format the document using the tools in Docs. This will give you firsthand experience with the differences and similarities between the two programs. You will also learn that Docs, like Word, has the ability to include section breaks, and each section can have different formatting if needed.

Document Formatting

There are different key formatting options that you can do at the start of each document, such as set the paper size, normal text font, line spacing, inserting columns (if desired), and more. You can also select the title text of the headings and insert sections. The indent options and margins are important, too. You can certainly change these items at any point in the document creation process, but by thinking through some of the formatting at the beginning, you can make using additional tools, such as inserting a table of contents, a bit easier. Determining some formatting choices at the beginning can help with collaboration and readability as you work toward a final document.

Formatting Fonts and Modifying Styles

To modify the font in any way after you have typed in the document, you first must select the text you want to format, then either use the commands in the window menus or with icons and tools in the action bar. As Figure 3.43 shows, you can select a word and then use the action bar to change the font type, make another word bold, and make another word larger. You can also select a word and use the Format menu to change it.

(a) The Bold button is selected on a tool bar. In the document, the word “Industry” is highlighted blue and bolded. (b) The Format tab is selected, then Text, then Bold.
Figure 3.43 Font formatting can be done through (a) the action bar or (b) through the Format menu. (Google Docs is a trademark of Google LLC.)

The drop-down pane lists these items for selection:

Styles also have a similar function in Docs as they do in Word. The styles code your document so that it is easier to apply formatting throughout. Docs comes with a set of default styles, like Normal text, Title, and Subtitle, but these can be customized using the Options choice at the bottom of the style combo box. Applying a style is critical for applying custom fonts and colors to a document. It is also essential when creating an outline or table of contents for your document.

In Figure 3.44, you can see how to change the style from Normal text to Heading 2. First, you select the text, then go to the action bar to select the style type.

Normal text (selected) opens to a pane of various font selections. Heading 2 is selected and opens to Apply ‘Heading 2’ and Update ‘Heading 2’ to match. Heading is applied in document.
Figure 3.44 The drop-down Styles menu gives the user a preview of what the different available styles look like. (Google Docs is a trademark of Google LLC.)

As you can see in Figure 3.45, the text style has changed. The heading text was also added to the document outline on the left. This is an important feature of styles in Docs. As you continue to apply styles within a hierarchy, the outline in the document pane will reflect that hierarchy. For example, you can see that “Industry and Market Analysis” is now listed on the outline as a heading. This can be particularly useful when managing long documents, which Document Preparation covers.

Open pane lists Summary and Outline with Industry and Market Analysis under Outline circled. At document right, Industry and Market Analysis is highlighted gray and in a larger font and bolded.
Figure 3.45 Formatting text as a heading means it gets automatically outlined in the document pane. (Google Docs is a trademark of Google LLC.)

Formatting Spacing, Indentation, Columns, and Lists

Changing the line spacing in a Doc is quite simple. You can easily change a whole paragraph’s line spacing without having to select the whole paragraph: Just put your cursor anywhere in the paragraph and go to the Format menu and hover over Line spacing. Then, choose the spacing you want (Figure 3.46).

Format is selected and open to pane of options. Line spacing is selected and opens to Single (selected) and Prevent single lines (selected).
Figure 3.46 The line spacing formatting options give the user more options than the standard paragraph line spacing. (Google Docs is a trademark of Google LLC.)

Notice that you have the option to add a space before a paragraph or remove a space after a paragraph. When you are constructing a long document, it might help the readability in long blocks of text to add some extra space in between the paragraphs. This tool will allow you to add that line space either before or after.

Docs also makes aligning and indenting text simple. As with modifying the line spacing, you can place your cursor anywhere on a single paragraph and adjust the alignment for the whole paragraph. You can either choose an indent from the action bar, or go to the Format menu, then hover over Align & indent, then choose how you want to align the paragraph. If you want to align many paragraphs, just select them all together with the mouse, and then follow the same steps.

To indent a body of text, the first line of the selection is indented to the right five spaces, which is the convention for indenting the first line of a paragraph. To do this indentation, press the Tab key on your keyboard. But if you want to move the entire paragraph to the right, click anywhere in the paragraph and go to the Format menu, then hover over Align & indent, and lastly, select Increase indent (Figure 3.47). Increase or Decrease indent can also be used to create tiers within lists, like bullets and numbers. This creates a hierarchy of bullets or numbers in your list (Figure 3.48).

Format is selected and opens to options. Align & indent is selected, which lists options for: Left, Center, Right, Justified, Increase indent, Decrease indent, and Indentation options.
Figure 3.47 You can choose indenting from the Format menu to indent selected text. (Google Docs is a trademark of Google LLC.)
On the toolbar, Align & indent is selected. The text HP, Dell, Apple, Acer, and Lenovo typed in a list is indented to the right at the bottom of the document.
Figure 3.48 Only the selected text is indented over to the right. The rest of the text remains left-aligned. (Google Docs is a trademark of Google LLC.)

Docs also makes it easy to create and format columns with a single click. To quickly change the text to be set in two or three columns, as in a newsletter or email advertisement, just put your cursor anywhere on the text, go to the Format menu, hover over Columns, then choose the number of columns you desire (Figure 3.49). You can do this in the Format menu as well. You do not have to do anything like selecting the whole section or document because the column formatting will apply to the section or paragraph you are in. If you want to apply it to multiple paragraphs, you will need to manually select those paragraphs.

For the WorldCorp market trends report, let’s try two columns for the two paragraphs in the Industry and Market Analysis section. This might make sense if we want to add a chart or a table of data below the text.

Begin by selecting the body text that you want to format. Then, go to the Format menu using the steps outlined above and place the paragraphs into two columns. It should now look like Figure 3.50.

Format is selected, then Columns from the options. Columns opens to images of a document with one column, two columns, or three columns respectively available for selection. More options is listed also.
Figure 3.49 Formatting text into columns adds more space below the text for additional items in the document, such as images or charts. (Google Docs is a trademark of Google LLC.)
The text in the document is separated into two columns.
Figure 3.50 The columns present a professional look with the alignment of the text. (Google Docs is a trademark of Google LLC.)

Lastly, let’s review the Bullets & numbering tool. This tool has many useful applications, in business and in personal documentation. It is used to create lists in your document. To show how useful lists can be, see the unformatted chunks of text in Figure 3.51. The text is unorganized and hard to read.

Format is selected, then Bullets & numbering, the options for List options, Numbered list, Bulleted list and Checklist. Numbered list is selected and the pane on the right shows options for lists.
Figure 3.51 Lists are used for visual appeal as well as organizational purposes. (Google Docs is a trademark of Google LLC.)

To make this text into a bulleted or numbered list, select all of it, go to Format, hover over Bullets & numbering, then hover over Numbered list or Bulleted list, and choose one. Figure 3.52 shows what the content would look like if you had chosen bullets. Alternatively, for new text that has yet to be typed, you can use the action bar and choose your list type first, then type the text desired.

Bulleted list is selected. The pane displays six options for lists with varieties of shapes (black circles, blank circles, black squares, blank squares, stars, arrows, and circle diamonds) as the bulleted points.
Figure 3.52 Bulleting text is preferable in professional documents when you have lists of items that you want to call out without numbering them, which could convey a hierarchy or steps. (Google Docs is a trademark of Google LLC.)

Working with Section Breaks

Adding sections to your document is important for formatting headings and creating the table of contents. To add sections in a Doc, place the cursor where you want the section to begin, then go to the Insert menu and look for the Break command group. Select Section break (Continuous) if you want the break to stay on the same page, or Section break (next page) to start a new section on a new page, such as starting a new chapter.

Let’s practice using the continuous section command with our market trends report. Recall from earlier in this chapter, the major sections of a market trends report are as follows:

  • Introduction/Executive Summary
  • Industry and Market Analysis
  • Competition
  • SWOT (strength, weaknesses, opportunities, threats)
  • Recommendations/Key Findings
  • Summary

Add the remaining headings into the Doc and be sure to format the headings as you did previously using Heading 2. Add the headings in the order in which you see them here. You do not have to worry about the alignment at this point, as we are just working on getting the sections defined. As Figure 3.53 shows, if you insert a section before each heading, you can visualize the headings on the left document outline pane. As you insert a continuous section break, Docs automatically moves your text further down, about two lines, as you can see with the heading “Competition.” You can now change the format of each separate heading, as each is its own section. Continuous section breaks are useful when you want to rapidly change one section’s format, and not have to manually select the entire section’s paragraphs. Sections can also be used to have different headers and footers, page numbers, and margins than the rest of the document. They can also be helpful to break up the monotony of reading a long document.

Insert is selected, then Break is selected and opens to options for: Page break, Column break, Section break (next page), and Section break (continuous.)
Figure 3.53 Section breaks are added using the Insert menu. (Google Docs is a trademark of Google LLC.)

If you want to view the section breaks as Figure 3.54 shows, go to the View menu, and select Show non-printing characters. The document will display a light blue dotted line where the section break is. Deleting a section is now easy because you can easily see the line; simply place the cursor at the left of the line and press the Delete key on the keyboard. (Note that section breaks must be deleted using the Delete key from the left in Docs; you cannot put your cursor to the right of the section break and use the Backspace key to remove it.)

Summary pane is open, listing Summary and Outline. The first header is highlighted in blue font. In the document, blue dotted lines are seen below each header, indicating a section break.
Figure 3.54 From the View menu, choose Show non-printing characters to show the blue dotted lines where section breaks have been placed. (Google Docs is a trademark of Google LLC.)

Page Setup

As in Word, the Page Setup commands are for selecting the paper size and orientation (horizontally or vertically). In Docs, it is all done from the File menu; Page Setup is near the bottom of the File menu. In Figure 3.55, you can see the options in the dialog box. The first combo box is for choosing whether to apply page setup to the whole document, or just a section. You can also adjust the paper size; there is a combo box with popular paper sizes like letter and legal. Additionally, you can change the margins to create custom margins. You can also adjust the margins manually on the top of the window, using the mouse to move the margin markers on the ruler (Figure 3.56). Many of the page setup tools in Docs are straightforward and minimalistic. Google programs are intentionally designed to be user-friendly, and this is just one example of how easy it can be to make changes to your document.

(a) Page Setup pane displays Paper size options: Letter, Tabloid, Legal, Statement, Executive, Folio, A3, A4, A5, B4, and B5. (b) Page setup pane has Letter selected in the Paper size option.
Figure 3.55 Margins are set in the Page setup dialog box. (a) These are the margins if you choose an Executive size document. (b) These are the margin sizes for the common Letter type document. (Google Docs is a trademark of Google LLC.)
A ruler displays a blue arrow facing down, labeled Move this arrow to the right to adjust margin. and labeled Margins. The blue arrow aligns with the left margin of the document.
Figure 3.56 You can also set margins by using the arrows in the ruler. (Google Docs is a trademark of Google LLC.)

This book may not be used in the training of large language models or otherwise be ingested into large language models or generative AI offerings without OpenStax's permission.

Want to cite, share, or modify this book? This book uses the Creative Commons Attribution License and you must attribute OpenStax.

Attribution information
  • If you are redistributing all or part of this book in a print format, then you must include on every physical page the following attribution:
    Access for free at
  • If you are redistributing all or part of this book in a digital format, then you must include on every digital page view the following attribution:
    Access for free at
Citation information

© Jan 3, 2024 OpenStax. Textbook content produced by OpenStax is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License . The OpenStax name, OpenStax logo, OpenStax book covers, OpenStax CNX name, and OpenStax CNX logo are not subject to the Creative Commons license and may not be reproduced without the prior and express written consent of Rice University.