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How to use Google Docs Version History

Jack Wallen introduces you to a Google Docs feature you might never need, but will be seriously thankful for, should the occasion arise.


Image: Google

If you’re a Google Docs power user, there’s a feature you really need to start using–one that could help you in ways you never knew possible. That feature is called the Version History. What this tool does is keep a record of every version of a file that has been saved to your Google Docs cloud account. 

What can this feature do for you? For example, say you open a very important document you’ve been working on and, for whatever reason, everything has gone wrong. Either formatting is lost, data is gone, or everything is garbled. It’s a rare occasion that this happens, but if you’re collaborating on a document with another person, you are no longer 100% in control of what happens to that document, which means things can happen.

Should such a tragedy occur, all is not lost. You can turn to the versioning tool and revert to a previous iteration of the file. This tool is free with your Google account and doesn’t require you to install any third-party add-ons. It’s also incredibly easy to use.

Let’s see how it works.

SEE: Top cloud providers in 2020: AWS, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud, hybrid, SaaS players (TechRepublic)

How to access the Google Docs Version History

The first thing to do is open a document in Google Docs. Once the document is open, click File | Version History | See Version History. This will change the Doc interface from the standard Edit window to the Version History, which is clearly indicated by the Version History right sidebar (Figure A).

Figure A


The Version History of one of my latest novels.

As you can see, at the top of my list, I have a named version. By default, all versions are named with a time stamp. That’s fine if you only want to revert to a version of a document via timestamp. To do that, you’d simply click on the date you want to use and that version will open. Don’t worry, by opening a previous version you do not lose later versions. When you click on a version, you’re only viewing it, so it’s not open for editing. 

If you do locate the version of the file you want to revert to, you’d then click Restore This Version (Figure B).

Figure B


Restoring a previous version from your history is a click away.

After clicking the Restore button, you’ll be prompted to okay the restore. Once that’s done, you’ll be back in the standard Google Docs edit window, where you can go back to work. When you do restore a previous version, you do not lose all versions after that time stamp; the newly restored version just becomes the most recent in the history.

This can get confusing. How do you solve such a problem?

How to name a version

One thing I’ve found that helps tremendously–especially in longer documents–is to name my versions. For example, you can name versions with milestones (such as chapters, plot points, collaborators, specific edits, etc.). There are two ways to name a version, the easiest can be done from within the Google Docs edit window. While working on a document, click File | Version History | Name Current Version. In the resulting popup, give the version a name and click Save (Figure C). 

Figure C


Naming the current version of a Google Doc.

The next method for naming a version is from within the Version History window. In the Version sidebar, locate the version you want to name, click the associated menu button (three vertical dots), and click Name This Version from the drop-down (Figure D).

Figure D


Naming a version from within the Version History window.

Naming a version of a Google Doc makes it significantly easier to locate the version you want. To that end, I highly recommend you start using the naming feature, even if only to make your life a bit more efficient with the Version History tool.

And that’s all there is to using Google Docs version history. This is a very easy tool to use, and it’s one that can really save your skin, should things go wonky with a document. This tool has come in quite handy for me on a number of occasions over the years. Make it a part of your Google Docs workflow. Maybe you won’t need it, but if you do, you’ll be very glad it’s there.

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