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Microsoft Word vs. Google Docs

Mike Schertenlieb

It’s time to draft some copy. You’ve brainstormed your topic and done your research, but now you’ve got to start typing… Where do you go to begin?

For some, it’s that ubiquitous blue W – the longstanding king of word processing, Microsoft Word. For others, it’s a straight to their favorite browser to fire up Google Docs and make drafts in a more web-based way.

But what’s the difference? Why would people choose one over the other? On the surface, they’re doing the same thing… You type some words, adjust some sizes and headings, add italics or bolding where you like, and that’s about it… Right?

For many users that is about all there is to it, but there are plenty differences between the options as well – so let’s dive into the pros and cons of these word processing mainstays for a handful of scenarios.

1. Saving

As much as I like Microsoft Word for many of its features, plenty of the versions I’ve used over the years have some issues when it comes to saving documents. It’s not that it doesn’t work, just that I’ve encountered glitches and crashes while saving more times than I’d care to think about.

Word is usually pretty good about document recovery when this happens, but still – it’s irritating, and could potentially cost you hours of work.

Google Docs, on the other hand, autosaves every few minutes – and constantly saves while you’re making changes. It’s also saving everything to your Google Drive, not your machine’s hard drive… Which means that, well, your computer could fall into a chasm, the hard drive could get struck by lightning, or your office could disappear into the ocean Atlantis-style…

And you could still get your document from another machine, as long as you have an internet connection.

GDocs are the clear winner in this arena.

2. Editing

Both Word and Google Docs allow editors to track changes (though Google calls it “suggesting”) with the highlights and comment capabilities you would expect. The features aren’t terribly different, but I tend to like Word’s version better.

In both options, deleted content goes into a sidebar note (as do other changes), but the Google Doc also leaves the deleted content in the document with a strike-through. I find this to clutter up the document, and not be of any help to the editor OR the person receiving the tracked changes. Word will keep the deleted content available, but nests it within the sidebar note for a much cleaner look.

Word also has a “compare documents” feature that, while rarely used, has been a real lifesaver when multiple versions of a draft are going around. In collaborative copywriting, it can be extremely valuable.

On the other side, though, the cloud-based nature of Google Docs also make it fantastic for group work and collaboration, especially because multiple people can work on a document at the same time – with colored, name indicating cursors to boot!

You could even have one person drafting with an editor (on the other side of the world, potentially) hot on their heels, revising the content as it’s being composed.

…And not that it’s hard to attach a Word document to an email, but the share features offered by Google Docs make it even easier to send drafts back and forth.

When I get documents to revise, I usually go for Microsoft Word – but this particular point is going to have to be a draw. They both work just fine for editing.

3. Extra Elements

This is the category where we see a difference between a web-based solution like GDocs and a full “program” like Word. While Google Docs are awfully robust, with most of the features you might need for the average content writing task, there are simply things in Word’s bag of tricks that GDocs can’t do.

Some of this stuff is pretty esoteric, but even at a glance, GDocs doesn’t have the built in SmartArt features for creating charts and graphs like Word, nor does it have the “clipboard panel,” the backend organizational/sorting tools, or anywhere near the number of add-ons.

Plenty of this stuff won’t matter to the average user, but the deep-diving supernerd won’t help but notice that Word is just… More technical. Check out a list of odd and overlooked Word features here.    

It’s also worth noting that the mobile app versions of Google Docs don’t have nearly the same features as the browser version.

Now, it’s also true that most of the features anyone might need for document creation, from formatting to linking and image insertion, are all available in GDocs. Word takes the cake here, but only by a small margin – and only for those really delving into the hardcore features.

4. Fine Formatting

Both of these options have the tools you need to make lovely looking documents, and while they both offer a range of templates, the web-based nature of Google Docs means that the library of “public templates” is MASSIVE.

Word will help format for envelopes and shipping labels, but the templates in GDocs reach far and wide, from MLA formatting in essays to basically limitless variations of resumes, cover letters, agendas, and the like. Google Docs even has a “research” function that helps find sources, insert links, create proper citations, and even insert footnotes. Word does not.

For the internet connectivity alone – both for built-in Google searching and the smorgasbord of available templates, GDocs gets the prize.

Is There A Winner?

I still prefer to edit documents in Word, but it might just be force of habit.

Each option has its benefits and downsides, but for just about everyone out there, Google Docs is the smarter choice. If you’ve got perpetual internet access, if you need to share documents among different people, if you need collaborate in one place, if you need ease of use and automatic saving…

Google Docs is simply the way to go.

Little by little, I’ve been drafting more and more in GDocs, and I’ll probably come around to editing with it as well… Most of those fancy Word features just aren’t going to be of use for most people. With the scores tallied up, Google Docs has to be the winner.

WAIT! A word of warning though:

For all the convenience of Google Docs, and even though you can set it to work offline… It is still a web-based solution. If you’ve got your whole novel draft there, and your internet service goes down, TOO BAD!

If your team is collaborating on a huge report, all in one big GDoc, and Google’s servers go down… So much for getting anything done!

GDocs is still the word processor of choice, but remember that it’s not quite the same without an internet connection. Word works either way…

Which one is your favorite?



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