How to Make a Collaborative Google Doc

If you’re writing RA3 collaboratively (guidelines here), you may find it helpful to use a single online document to share your notes and writing with each other. (I do it all the time.)

While there are lots of sites that allow collaborative writing (including Zoho and PiratePad), I find trusty Google Docs (now part of Google Drive) to be the easiest and most useful–partly because of the clear sharing directions, and partly because so many people already have Google accounts.

Here’s how to make a shared doc:

1. If you don’t have one, open a free Google account. As always, you can choose how truthful you want to be with the info you give them.

2. Go to Google Drive. (I often just type into my browser’s address bar.) Log into your

Screenshot of the create button

Google Account if you’re not automatically logged in already.

3. Click the big red “CREATE” button in the upper left of the screen, and then choose “Document” in the drop-down menu that pops out of it.

4. You should now be in a new untitled document. Here, you can do a few things really easily:

  • Give the document a name by clicking “Untitled Document” in the upper left.
  • Notice that when you type, changes are automatically saved. You can always get back to a document you created by browsing to Google Drive and logging in from any computer. (There’s also a mobile app.)
  • Notice that you can link to any outside information the same way you add links in WordPress: by highlighting text and then clicking the image of a link in the toolbar.

5. The default privacy setting for every document is complete privacy–no one but you gets to see what’s in it. Invite someone else to write in the document with you by clicking the “Share” button in the upper right, where you’ll see a few simple options. Here’s what I suggest:

  • After you click Share, you’ll see a box with some options. Next to “Private – Only the people listed below can access,” click the “Change…” button.
  • On the next screen, the easiest way to share your document is to select “Anyone with the link,” and then choose “Can edit” in the box that appears. This way, your collaborator won’t have to log into a Google Drive account before being able to write in the document.
    • Once you select the options you want, click “save” and you’ll be given a link to your document that you can send to anyone you want.

Screenshot of privacy screen

    • The main downside to the anyone-with-the-link-can-edit approach is that your collaborator will need to save the link to the document, or she won’t be able to get back to it later. But if she has a Google Account and is logged in when accessing the document, she can get to it Sagain simply by going to and logging in from any computer. Google remembers which Docs you’ve read. (Kind of creepy, right?)
    • The other option is that if you both have Google accounts, the person making the document can choose to keep the document private and give explicit permission to only the person invited. Sometimes the “invitation” stuff gets confusing when people use multiple email addresses, but you should be able to figure it out if you’d prefer to go this route.

Once you start, Google Docs can get pretty addicting. I have docs that keep track of my address list, to list where I can get free stuff on my birthdays, to track what presents I give to family each year, to list what repairs are done on my car, to get advice from friends on my writing, and for various scholarly projects. Every time my wife and I go on vacation, we make a Google Doc (or 2) as a place to dump ideas and links for each other to look over later. Some of my docs are collaborative, but many are private–I write there so I can find my writing no matter what computer I’m at.

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