Demystifying Online Collaboration: Google Docs and Microsoft Word
Collaborating on that Word document on OneDrive was going great. One person edited, and then another, and then another. One person was frustrated that some of their changes were gone, but solved that by making them again. It wasn’t until the next meeting that they realized they had been uploading their Word document into the cloud, rather than editing a document in the cloud. Remote collaboration tools are great, but they don’t always work as expected. So let’s demystify this a bit.
Two of the most popular page editors are Google Docs and Microsoft Word, which operate within Google Workspace and Microsoft Office 365, respectively. Google Docs are typically stored online in Google Drive and Word in OneDrive or SharePoint. While it’s possible to work offline with each, we’ll primarily focus on online editing. It’s worth noting that Google and Microsoft change their user interfaces every so often, but the generalities of collaboration stay true.
Google Drive and OneDrive provide a way to sync documents on a person’s computer as well as in the cloud. If multiple people are editing a document, this poses the risk of overwriting other peoples’ changes once the document syncs to the cloud. As a document typically syncs to the latest version, that could mean that your document changes are uploaded to the cloud or that changes made by others are downloaded from the cloud.
Google Docs is highly integrated with Google Drive, which allows people to edit a live document at the same time, otherwise known as co-editing. Edits are seen once a person types them. It also allows for commenting, responding to those comments, and resolving what the comments are addressing. Google Docs also saves previous versions. All these things make Google Docs great for collaborative editing. Google Docs, however, has limited features compared to Microsoft Word, and may not produce documents that meet the required publication standards. While Google Docs is great for editing content, and may be a great tool for editing blog posts, it’s not great for refining layout. Reformatting a Google Doc into Microsoft Word, with citations, can take hours. It’s best to task a single person with transferring it to Word to complete a final edit.
Microsoft Word also allows co-editing where one can see the changes as they type. The Word document would need to be saved in OneDrive online or SharePoint online. People who use Microsoft Word online or Microsoft Word 2016 or higher, can edit together at the same time if you share the document with the other users. The desktop version of Word will have more lag than the online version of Word, but still allows for collaboration. You can also leave comments, and if you choose, turn on Track Changes.
With either Google Docs or Microsoft Word, you can avoid crossing wires by having your team leave comments that will be addressed by a primary editor. The writing style may sound more consistent that way as well. What you don’t want to do is edit your local document and have it be synced. That will overwrite everyone else’s changes. We’ll address the advantages and challenges of syncing in a future article.
If you decide to collaborate, you can do so with or without voice. One option would be to only communicate by leaving comments. Platforms like Google Drive have the option to real-time chat while editing the document. You also could use meeting software like Google Meet or Zoom or by talk on the phone, where you can do real-time chat or talk via voice. Both Google Docs and Microsoft Word also give one the option to review past versions and restore, which makes it safer to edit.
Now, go forth and collaborate!
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