My company is hiring a contract technical writer to improve our product's documentation. As the maintainer, I'm currently using Google Docs, and very happy with it's collaborative nature (multiple simultaneous editors, web based, comment/response system), ease of use, and ability to produce PDF output.

The technical writing resource needs to create/apply standard styles to our various documents, rework/reduce much of the content (we're software engineers, not writers), add tables of contents and indexes, and allow output to web friendly HTML (while still allowing us to produce PDF). By "web friendly", I mean the standard content on the right with navigation on the left.

Can this all be accomplished using Google Docs? What are the alternatives? I'm concerned with switching to something that isn't cloud based or locks me into a proprietary binary that only runs on Windows or OSX.

1 Answer 1


Google Docs is fairly limited in its word-processing feature set. It has a very basic set of styles which can be applied to text. From what I can see there is no way to change the list of styles although you can customize how they appear.

It allows export to .doc, .pdf, and several other formats and has a "publish to the web" feature which you can see in action here. This probably isn't what you want, so there's also an export to html which presumably allows you to host the document somewhere else.

There doesn't seem to be any control over how the navigation appeears on the publish-to-web version. Publishing to web and publishing on paper are fairly different tasks and Gdocs seems to be designed with a paper-first model.

Gdocs are fine for basic document editing and collaborative document editing but they lack many important features for advanced users. I suspect you will be disappointed. However, it may be possible to export your data from gdocs to some other tool, especially if you have programmers on hand to massage the output.

As for it being cloud-based: I'm going to suggest that you already have a "cloud" where you can store your documents: your version control system.

  • Also, Gdocs does not currently generate table of contents or index lines.
    – MetaEd
    Jan 14, 2014 at 17:19
  • Seconded re using your version-control system. This also means that when you branch or tag the code for specific releases, patches, or other efforts, your docs will go alongside the code, helping to keep it clear to all what goes with what. Jan 14, 2014 at 22:54
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    @MετάEd It can generate a table of contents from Heading styles. See my example document. Jan 15, 2014 at 2:09
  • @MonicaCellio I was going to write that in the answer but cut it after it threatened to turn into an essay :) Jan 15, 2014 at 2:09
  • @Mr.ShinyandNew安宇 yeah, it would be getting a little afield of the question -- hence my decision to comment, not suggest an edit. :-) Jan 15, 2014 at 2:39

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