Having added a voice typing feature to Google Docs last year, Google Inc. recently added another update to its signature cloud-based word processing software that not only allows users to write documents by speaking into a microphone, but edit them too.

The feature is easy to activate – simply select “Voice typing” under the “Tools” menu and a grey microphone icon will appear (below). Select the icon with your mouse (note that this guide is written with browser-based users in mind) and it will turn orange.

Google Docs microphone icons

As with any dictation software, the bulk of your time spent with voice typing will involve speaking into your microphone while the words appear onscreen, and like someone on the other end of a bad telephone connection, it often needs you to slow down and can have trouble distinguishing between certain phonetic sounds such as “s” and “f” (or “s” and “x,” as its frequent misunderstanding of the word “test” proved).

It’s with keyboard-free editing that Google’s new update gets really interesting.

By adding the words “comma” and “period” (“exclamation point” and “question mark” are also available – but not, sadly, quotation marks, apostrophes, colons, brackets, or dashes), you can write out part of the preceding paragraph in a way that would at least be clear enough to function as a text message:

Google Docs screenshot 1

If you want a new line or paragraph, you need only say “new line” or “paragraph”:

Google Docs screenshot 2

To select the preceding two paragraphs, you can say “select last two paragraphs” (for the record, the software initially had trouble distinguishing between certain “phone attic sounds”).

Google Docs screenshot 3

The software can also be used to select specific words or phrases (though in testing, it only seemed to be able to do so when on the same line as the word or phrase being highlighted), or characters, or lines.

To increase the font size, simply say “increase font size” (or “decrease font size,” to make it smaller) – or “make bigger,” or “font size 30.”

Google Docs screenshot 4

To change the alignment from left to right and back again, just say “align” – centre, left, or right.

Google Docs screenshot 5

You can also “highlight” or change your “text” or “background” into one of eight colours: red, orange, yellow, green, cyan, blue, purple, and magenta (the default highlighting colour is yellow).

Here are the preceding paragraphs after speaking the following sentences, in order: “background colour blue,” “text colour white,” “select the words,” and “highlight red.”

Google Docs screenshot 7

Followed by “remove highlight,” “remove background color,” and “text colour magenta”:

Google Docs screenshot 8

Other text formatting commands available include “bold,” “italicize,” and “underline,” which change the style of text that appears while you’re dictating (and can be cancelled by saying “bold,” “italicize,” and “underline” again); while others cover such basics as “copy,” “cut,” “paste,” and “delete last word.” You can also use your voice to insert or format tables, and even insert headers and footers. Google is also fine-tuning the software to recognize a multitude of accents.

Check out the full list of available commands here, or simply say “voice commands help” while voice typing in Google Docs.

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  • It looks pretty useful, but using voice to edit has never been my thing and I think it won’t be. But hey, if people find it useful, go for it!