Google Docs Tips


Google Docs can be a great tool. In fact, it is reasonably accessible using specific screen reader and browser combinations within Windows 10. However, the fact that the screen reader, browser, or Google Docs itself could change at literally any minute makes the product challenging at times. Below are some general tips and tricks on how to make Google Docs work better for you.

Please note that this article will focus on use of Windows 10 and Google Docs and lean toward a preference for Google Chrome and JAWS. References to other screen reader and browser combinations will be referenced as appropriate.

Additionally, when referring to the JAWS Modifier Key, this article will refer to it as Insert since that is the default designated key in Desktop Layout. However, if modifications to JAWS to use a different modifier key (such as Caps Lock), you would make the appropriate modification.

Yes, the Browser Does Matter…

As of this writing, the preferred way to access Google Docs is with JAWS and the Google Chrome Browser.

If JAWS is not currently available to you, NVDA works reasonably well with the Google Chrome browser or Firefox. Keep in mind that if you are not using the Chrome browser, some of the default commands will change. For example, to access the File Menu, instead of Alt + F, as you would use in Chrome, you’d need to use Alt + Shift + F in any other browser.

At the time of this writing, VoiceOver on a Mac works with Google Docs best from the Chrome Browser for Mac.

For information on how to use a Chromebook to access the platform, please refer to the Chromebook and ChromeVox resources page of the main site.

Navigating a Google Doc

To navigate and edit within a Google Doc, Quick Keys (JAWS) or Browse Mode (NVDA) must be turned off. At times, the screen reader may reactivate these settings, so if you notice that you are having difficulty in a Google Doc, try turning off these options.

For JAWS users, turn off the Quick Keys by pressing Insert + Z. For NVDA users, turn off Browse Mode by pressing Insert + Space. Both of these commands are a toggle, meaning that the same key command will turn the settings back on again.

Bringing up a List of Key Commands

At any time, the user may ask Google for a list of key commands by pressing Control + Slash. These commands will appear in a dialogue that can be challenging to navigate. Therefore, it is recommended that the user press Tab until “View All in Help Center” is in focus, then press Enter. This will open a new tab in the browser.

Once focused in the new tab, press B for Button to navigate to the button labeled “PC Shortcuts” and press Enter to expand it. Once that area is expanded, the user may navigate by heading or table to find the desired command or simply explore the options available.

Layered Commands in JAWS

For those who are unfamiliar with them, Layered Commands were introduced in previous versions of JAWS. With each subsequent release, there have been changes and improvements on how these commands work.

In short, Layered Commands require the user to enter the “Command Layer” by pressing Insert + Space, then pressing a specific sequence of keys. If you would like a list of Layered Commands, simply press Insert + Space followed by a Question Mark and a JAWS Virtual Window will appear providing you with the context specific help.

Layered Commands allow the user to navigate a Google Doc without making accidental edits. This is particularly useful in documents containing tables, lists, or headings and in longer documents.

To enter the Command Layer, press Insert + Space, then press Q to activate the Quick Keys Layer. This command will allow use of certain Quick Keys, but will not allow editing within the Google Doc. After entering the Quick Keys Layer, any of the following commands will work in a Google Doc:

  • To move to next or prior heading, press H or Shift + H.

  • To move to next or prior list, press L or Shift + L.

  • To move to next or prior table, press T or Shift + T.

  • To move to table start or end, press Control + Home or Control + End.

  • To move to row start or end, press Control + Left Arrow or Control + Right Arrow.

  • To move to column start or end, press Control + Up Arrow or Control + Down Arrow.

  • To move to next or prior spelling error, press M or Shift + M.

  • Press Escape to exit the Quick Keys layer.

Any unrecognized command will also exit the Quick Keys Layer. Regardless of the method used, a sound will play to confirm that the user has exited Layered Commands.

Opening a Link

Clicking on a link can sometimes be challenging since it is very easy to inadvertently add a new line or indent. These simple steps may help:

  1. Once a link is detected, move the cursor so focus is inside link text (i.e. not directly in front of or behind…it only needs to be one character in, so a right arrow will do).

  2. Press the Asterisk or “Star” Key in your Number Pad. This command will simulate a right-click. If an asterisk is inserted, your number lock is turned on. Turn your number lock off and press the Asterisk Key again.

  3. A context menu will open. Use your Arrow Keys to navigate the Context Menu. You may open the link in the same tab or in a separate tab or window by pressing Enter.

Editing Google Docs

Editing Google Docs has evolved and changed over the years and some new commands have been introduced to make the process easier.

Quickly Access the Tool Bar

The Tool Bar exists so that users can “click” on the button that they wish to activate more quickly and without having to remember every single key command. When using JAWS, the user can open a dialogue box that lists each of the buttons on the Toolbar, allowing him or her to navigate them using Up and Down Arrow Keys.

To access the Tool Bar, press Insert + F8, then navigate the dialogue as described above. When focused on the appropriate tool (such as start a spell check, add a link, change text formatting, etc) simply press the Enter Key.

Notice that key commands are also announced in this dialogue. You may wish to take note of those commands and begin to use them as you become more familiar with Google Docs.

Navigate to Spelling Errors

Navigate to the next spelling error by pressing Control + Apostrophe. The user may then manually correct the error. This option is in addition to running a spell check.

Key Takeaways

  • When possible, use JAWS and the Google Chrome browser to access Google Docs

  • If you are having difficulty in a Google Doc, check to see if Browse Mode or Quick Keys is enabled.

  • Use Control + Slash to bring up a list of keyboard shortcuts

  • Access the Toolbar quickly in JAWS by pressing Insert + F8