Google Docs is more than a web-based office suite. The power of Google Docs lies not in the functionality of individual office programmes but in the ease of collaboration built across the whole suite. The service gives people the ability to write, share and edit a document together in real time with minimal fuss.
Google Docs is ideal for brainstorming. Participants don’t even have to be in the same room; people can connect from remote locations and collaborate on ideas together. All you have to do is create one Google Doc for the group to share and send the link to each of them. This document is used as a central place for everyone to add content; it should be seen as a sandbox for playing, for trying out experiments and for making sense of a topic.
With Google Docs the basics are sorted
- Google Docs continuously autosaves your document to the ‘Google Cloud’ letting people concentrate on creation; it’s as convenient as writing on a flip chart with all the advantages of having the results in an editable format that participants can take away.
- Every contribution and edit is recorded which means that the revision history can be used to review and trace back contributions to prior versions.
- Each contributor is assigned a unique colour. For most collaborative projects this feature is useful in identifying the person who made the edit or suggestion, enabling you to investigate further if need be. For brainstorming it adds the advantage of showing that your document is intended to be no more than a sprawling work-in-progress; it’s built up like Lego and people have the freedom to go back and change whatever they like.
- Google Docs is available 24/7 on desktop and mobile platforms so almost everyone should be able to have access, even if they can’t attend your office in person. As well as contributing ideas together at the same time, people can work on the document asynchronously; when the session is over the document is still available for further amendments and last-minute ideas that people have slept on.
- You may decide to make your core document using Google Drawings rather than a text document. This programme can be used for creating charts, diagrams, flow-charts and other image types. Of course the choice of core document depends on how comfortable your participants are in using online drawing tools (which is an art in itself).
Brainstorming built into the Google Docs interface
- Comments can be added easily to fine-tune an idea: just highlight some text, choose ‘Insert’ then ‘Comment’ and the comment box will appear on the right side of the page. Comments can also be updated; indeed an entire discussion can occur within a comment. Users can be notified at a later time if a comment is made or replied to.
- A chat window is built into the interface so contributors can switch between comments and discussions in real-time to explore ideas as they are being written. If you add a set of headphones and a microphone for people to communicate verbally you’re creating an extremely dynamic environment.
- Search is a useful function for brainstorming to instantly expand an idea, or even just provide a random starting point. It’s like flicking through a dictionary and selecting the word your finger lands on: type in a word and see where it takes you.
- An integrated research tool is built into the page so participants need not even leave the document. A built-in dictionary and thesaurus are also available.
- Content-specific buttons allow users to insert links, images, maps, and citations. The scope of the document is transformed at the click of a button.
- A web clipboard allows users to easily copy and paste content between other Google documents, spreadsheets, presentations and drawings. This vastly extends the range of what a brainstorming document can contain.
Image credit: Julia Freeman-Woolpert
Google Docs represents an extremely easy-to-use office suite with a low learning curve. Its focus on simplicity enables colleagues to concentrate on the ideas they’re working on rather than the mechanics of getting the system to work. The whole suite facilitates thinking by seamlessly integrating brainstorming functionality at every turn. And as everything is geared towards collaboration it all adds up to a fireworks factory for ideas.
Power it up further with mind-mapping. You can save to Google Drive and many options are free.
Are you going to try Google Docs for brainstorming?
Tell us how you get on in the comments!
- Collaborative and Public Writing Techniques for Google Docs – www.phd2published.com
- How to collaborate on documents over the internet – www.howtogeek.com