How to Download Your Google Docs

Working with the Google Docs app is so easy that you may think you never need to do anything else with these documents once they’re created. Google Docs automatically saves all of the documents you create in the cloud, meaning they’re safely stored away, and you have no worries of a local hard drive crash leaving you with lost documents.

However, there may be times where using the Google Docs download feature is a smart idea for you. When you download your Google Doc, you’ll create a copy of the word processing document on your local hard drive, while leaving a copy in the cloud.

We’ll explain exactly how to download your Google Docs and give you some ideas for why this may be a good idea in certain situations.

Do I Need to Use Google Docs Download Before Using Them?

Even though you have the option of using the Google Docs download feature, and even though there are times where it may make sense to download certain documents you’ve created, in reality, there is no requirement that you must download your Google Docs before using them.

You can just allow the Google Docs app to store all of your word processing documents in the cloud (using Google Drive and your Google account) without ever having to download them.

How Does Cloud Storage Work?

Cloud storage can be confusing for some people. Basically, cloud storage is like having a hard drive for your computer stored in a secure place on the Internet. This means that the data stored in your cloud account is accessible to you any time you have an Internet connection.

Google Docs works with Google Drive, which is a cloud storage app. Beyond using Google Drive to store Google Docs, many people use Google Drive or other cloud storage options to create backup copies of the data and files on their local hard drives, ensuring they always have a fresh backup copy of their files, just in case they have a hard drive crash.

How Do I Know if I Have Access to Google Drive?

Before you can use Google Docs or Google Drive, you have to sign up for a Google account. You would use your Google account for features like:

  • Gmail
  • Google Docs
  • Google Sheets
  • Google Slides
  • Google Drive
  • Google Calendar

There are many other apps accessible through your Google account. If you already use any of these apps from Google, you have signed up for a Google account at some point.

When you are using Google Docs, the documents you create will automatically save into your Google Drive account. The app issues the Save command for you every few seconds while you are editing the document (as long as your Internet connection is active and working). You do not ever have to click a Save button with Google Docs.

Google Docs documents will not save to any other place automatically. If you want to save these documents to another location, you will need to use the Google Docs download feature.

Reasons to Download Your Google Docs

Here are some reasons why you may want to download a Google Doc onto your local hard drive. (Remember that you have to have an active Internet connection at the time you attempt to download a Google Doc.)

1. No Internet

If you are traveling in a location that does not have WiFi available, having a copy of your Google Doc on your hard drive means you can continue to work on it, using the copy stored locally. Without an active Internet connection, you cannot use the Google Docs app to edit the document, so working locally is your only option.

2. Airplane Travel

Although some airplanes allow you to purchase WiFi connectivity, you may want to save your money and download your Google Docs before you board the plane. You then can work on the documents from your local hard drive while you’re in the air without the need for WiFi.

3. Maintain Your Own Copy

If you are sharing a particular document with coworkers or others, and all of those people have access to the file for editing and commenting, you may want to copy the file to your local hard drive after you edit it to make sure you have a copy with your edits. Otherwise, it is possible one of the other team members could undo your edits, and you would lose them.

Similarly, if you are working on a project collaboratively with Google Doc files where you are not the administrator of the tile, you may want to download a copy of the file after you make some edits, so you have a copy of your ideas and work. It is possible at some point that the administrator could remove your permission to edit or open the file, leaving you without the ability to download a copy later.

4. Exporting Files

If you have decided you no longer want to use Google Docs, switching to another word processing app like Microsoft Word, you can download your Google Doc files to your local hard drive, giving you the ability to access them in Word.

Understand that some of the formatting you did in your Google Doc may not fully transfer to Word or another word processor, so the download may not be a perfect copy.

The Best Way to Download Your Google Docs

We will give you step by step directions for the best way to download Google Docs to your hard drive. (You can create a test document to try out the steps along with us if you want.)

1. Open Google Drive

Open your Google Drive window. You should be able to do this by opening the Google home page in a web browser.

Sign in to your Google account (if you aren’t already signed into it). Then click on the grid of 3×3 dots in the upper right corner and click the Drive app.

2. Create a New Google Doc

In the upper left corner of the Drive window, click New. Then click Google Docs.

3. Name the File

With the new document file open, you’ll want to give it a name. Click in the text box in the upper left corner of the window (to the right of the blue document icon). Replace the text in the box with the file name you want to use.

Then start typing a few characters in the text area of the document in the middle of the screen. As you type, you’ll see a message in the upper middle of the window that lets you know Google is saving the document every few seconds.

4. Download the Google Doc

To use the Google Docs download feature, click on the File menu in the upper left area of the screen. Click Download, and then select the type of word processing document you’d like to create from the Google Doc. Your options (with the file name extension in parentheses) are:

  • Microsoft Word (.doc)
  • OpenDocument format (.odt)
  • Rich Text format (.rtf)
  • PDF document (.pdf)
  • Plain Text (.txt)
  • Web Page (.html)
  • EPUB Publication (.epub)

Depending on the web browser you’re using, you should see a notification that the file download is complete along the bottom of the window. In Google Chrome, for example, you’ll see a box on the bottom of the screen with a label that is the same as the file name. Click on the box to open the file in the software that’s associated with the file name extension you chose. You then can use the File menu in the software to save the document to your hard drive.

As an alternative, click the upward arrowhead on the box to open a popup menu. Click on Show in Folder to see the file’s current location on your hard drive. You then can copy and paste the file into whatever folder you want to use.

Other Ways to Do a Google Docs Download

A few other options exist for downloading a Google Doc from your Google Drive account to your local hard drive.

Copy and Paste

If you are using Google Docs to create a word processing file, and you suddenly lose your Internet connection, the Google Doc app will no longer automatically save your file to Google Drive. It will keep a copy on your local hard drive and attempt to save it the next time your Internet connection returns.

However, if you have concerns that the automatic save won’t work when your Internet connection returns, you can download the text to your local hard drive to create another backup copy through copying and pasting it.

Click anywhere inside the Google Doc text area. Click the Edit menu, followed by Select All. Click the Edit menu again, and click Copy.

Then open another piece of software where you can save the text to your local hard drive, whether that’s something like Microsoft Word or something as simple as Windows Notepad. Once you have the word processing software or app open, press the CTRL key followed by V, and you should see your text from the Google Doc pasted into the new software.

Then save this new file onto your hard drive, and you’ll have a copy of the text on your hard drive. (Your formatting changes may not save properly using this method, however.)

Download the File From Google Drive

Another option is to download a copy of the file in Google Drive and save it on your hard drive.

Open your Google Drive window and find the Google Doc file you’d like to download. Right-click on the file name to open a popup menu. Then left-click on Download. Google Drive will automatically download the file, giving you a message at the bottom of the web browser window (and usually creating a Microsoft Word file). You then can follow the same steps we described earlier to save a copy to your hard drive.

Differences Among Downloading With a PC, Mac, or Other Devices

Whether you’re downloading your Google Doc to a PC or a Macintosh computer, the process should work the same, because you’ll be working inside a web browser window with Google Docs. The Google Doc interface should be the same in any web browser.

Google Doc Download in iOS

If you have an iPhone or iPad, the process to download a Google Doc is a little different than with a web browser.

Tap the Google Drive icon on your Apple mobile device to open your Google Drive app. (If you haven’t yet logged into your Google account, you will need to log in.) Scroll through the list of files you have saved in Google Drive until you file the document you want to download.

You should see three horizontal dots to the right of the file name. Tap on these dots to open a new window. Scroll down until you see the Available Offline slider button and slide it to the right to activate it.

You now will be able to access this file, even when you do not have active Internet capability on your iOS device. Just tap on the file name to open it.

Google Doc Download in Android

If you have an Android tablet or smartphone, use the following steps to download your Google Doc.

Tap the Google Drive icon and sign in to your Google Drive account, if necessary. Scroll through the files listed on the screen and find the file you want to download. To the right of the file name, you should see three vertical dots. Tap on these dots. In the popup menu, tap on Download.

Android always downloads the Google Doc file as a PDF file onto your mobile device. (Before the download occurs, you may have to give your device access to your Google Drive account by tapping the Allow button.) Look for the Download folder on your Android device. Open the folder, and you should see your Google Doc downloaded as a PDF.

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Bryan Wise
Bryan Wise,
Former VP of IT at GitLab

Incredible companies use Nira