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Google Workspace: a Practical Guide

Core Google apps

We've looked at a range of apps within Google Workspace, but there's plenty more to explore. Let's take a look at some of the other core apps in Google Workspace and how to learn more about them.

As we looked at on Introduction to Google Workspace, there are many apps built into Google Workspace. Elsewhere on this guide we've looked at Calendar, Drive, and Gmail, as well as a few others, so on this page we're going to explore some of the core collaborative apps that allow you to create files and content and work with others to edit these.

This includes Google Docs, Sheets, Slides, Forms, and Sites. We'll also look at Jamboards, Colab notebooks, and Apps Script. You may be familiar with some of these apps (or all of them), or they may be very new to you. Many of them have a Microsoft Office counterpart, which you may be more familar with.

All of the apps we'll look at on this page can be accessed via Drive. You can create new files made with these apps through the New button in Drive, putting them into the right folder from the moment you create them, and can also access files you've created and ones other people have shared with you.

From the New button in Google Drive you can create folders as well as files like Docs, Sheets, and Slides as well as Sites, Forms, Colab notebooks and Jamboards

Collaborating in Docs, Sheets or Slides

There's loads of collaborative features in Google Docs, Sheets and Slides.

The most obvious is that you can simultaneously edit (none of that Read Only Copy stuff you get with Office when someone else is in a file).

You can also comment on sections of a document, or suggest changes.

Furthermore, if more than one person is in a document, a chat icon appears to the right of their icons in the top right of the screen, letting you chat with anyone else who's currently there.

Collaborating in a Google Doc. Chat; Comment; Suggest.

Google Docs

Docs is Google's text processing app, similar to Microsoft Word. It is web-based like the other Google apps and makes it easy to collaborate on documents with others and share them for other people to read and comment on as needed using Drive's sharing permissions.

For support on using the features of Docs to create documents, see our Creating Documents Practical Guide:

When using Docs, you should bear in mind accessibility features such as using heading styles for titles and headings, using appropriate fonts and font sizes, and adding alt text for images.

Google Sheets

Sheets is Google's spreadsheet app, similar to Microsoft Excel. Excel and Sheets contain basically comparable functionality, but Sheets allows you to work collaboratively in a web-based app and use features like filter views to interrogate datasets concurrently. Sheets can also be extended using Google Apps Script, a coding language for automating and linking Google apps.

For help with using Sheets (and spreadsheets in general), you can work through the Essential Spreadsheets Practical Guide, and members of the University of York can sign up for the Essential Spreadsheets course.

As well as using typical spreadsheet features to work with datasets, Sheets can also be used more creatively, for example to create games, and is also useful for creating to-do lists and action logs. Use conditional formatting and checkboxes to create a dynamic to-do list or action log, or explore our Coding Practical Guide page on spreadsheets to see some of the games you could make:

Google Slides

Slides is Google's presentation app, similar to Microsoft PowerPoint. It is web-based and allows you to create presentations, work collaboratively on them, and easily share them with groups of people, either openly on the internet or with specific individuals and groups. This makes Slides very useful for delivering presentations that will be shared with the audience or creating resources that can be accessed after the presentation or session.

If you want more advanced animation or media options, PowerPoint has more functionality (and makes it easy to export to video), but if you're looking for easier sharing and collaboration, Slides is the easier option.

You can also use Slides as a space to collaboratively design posters and infographics, if you change the slide size to be the size of the poster or graphic in question. It doesn't have as many features for image editing and design as PowerPoint, but can be very useful if you need to work with others. Though our Posters with a Powerful Point guide is focused on PowerPoint, many of the principles and tools still apply to Slides:

Google Forms

Forms is Google's tool for creating surveys, feedback forms, and quizzes. You use a web-based app to create your form and then share the web page link to the form to distribute it to other people to fill in. You can work collaboratively on the "back-end" of the form (so creating the questions) with other people in the same way you can collaborate in other Google apps, and you can set up responses to automatically go into a Google Sheet.

The Forms and Surveys guide covers Forms as well as Qualtrics, the other survey tool available at the University of York, and looks at survey design and how to use the features of Forms.


Jamboard is Google's collaborative whiteboard tool. You can create and share 'Jams' in Drive in the same way that you would create and share any other Google document ("Google Jamboard" is one of the options under the "More" menu when you press the New button in Drive).

Important notice: Google is 'winding down' Jamboard this year and Jamboard will no longer be available after 31st December 2024. Any 'Jams' you want to keep a record of will need to be exported as a PDF or PNG image format to save, as they will not be accessible after this date.

We've scribbled all over this jam and drawn a picture of some jam. We've also added some post-its and a photo.

Jamboard is very much a whiteboard: the tools available are limited to pens, post-it notes and images, so if you need to do anything more sophisticated than that you may find Google Slides a better collaborative option.

You can collaborate on a Jam in real time using the share options and you can download your Jams in PDF or PNG formats.

Colab notebooks

Colaboratory, or Colab notebooks, is Google's Python notebook tool. It runs Python in your web browser (with Python running on Google's servers rather than locally on your computer) and has an interface that is a blend of a Jupyter notebook and a Google Doc. Colab notebooks are stored in Drive like other Google files and can be shared similarly too.

To learn more about using Colab notebooks including workbook content that teaches you Python at the same time, see the Python page on the Coding Practical Guide:


If you're at the University of York, Google Colab notebooks sit outside of our usual agreement with Google, so we advise that you do not store any personal or senstive data within Colab notebooks. If you are working with Python and sensitive data, you should use a local Jupyter notebook or another method of running Python instead.

Google Apps Script

Apps Script is Google's coding language, which allows you to connect together Google apps and automate processes within Google tools. It is based on JavaScript, the coding language which makes the web do things. If you find yourself wanting to make Google Workspace work in particular ways that don't currently exist, Google Apps Script may be the right choice for you to learn. We have a self-directed online guide and course you can have a go with if you'd like to learn Apps Script:


Here's some suggested exercises to start familiarising yourself with Google apps:

  1. Take a look at the Google apps available. Using the New button in Drive, try making any kind of Google files you've not explored before.
  2. Make some properly formatted headings in Docs Create a new Google Doc and add some headings, then make sure you've applied heading styles to those headings.
  3. Link between different Google apps. Create two Google files - for example, a Sheet and a Slides deck - and then add a link to one in the other.
  4. Learn a new app. Using the links on this page, explore one of the Google apps that you want to use more and learn something new you can do in it.

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