How to Lock Areas of a Google Doc

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I get asked this quite frequently. You assign each student a Google Doc™, how do you lock them from editing PARTS of it? The short answer is you can not. However, if you follow these steps for my hack you can essentially do exactly this.

Why Lock Parts of a Google Doc?

There are many good reasons you may want to lock editing on parts of a Google Doc. View only documents lock the entire thing. Edit access provides access to the entire document, including the editing of questions. If you want students to respond to a particular prompt then you want them to answer the prompt but not edit the prompt.

For a document that asks students to update their responses you may want them to only update a previous response or to answer a follow up question without editing the previous responses.

Google Workspace Editability

The Google Workspace apps of Docs, Slides, Forms, and Sites do not offer the opportunity to restrict editing on parts. The only tool you can lock out PART of the document from editing is Google Sheets. Which is great news since “The answer is always a spreadsheet.”

Turn Google Sheets Into a Google Doc

For many circumstances a Google Sheets spreadsheet can mimic a Google Doc. Sometimes, it has improved advantages over a Google Doc.

Set Word Wrap

The key to loving using Google Sheets is word wrap. By default the text spills into the next cells. If there is content in the next cells the text gets cut off and hidden. This is easily solvable by clicking on the “awesome box.” This selects all.

In a google sheets spreadsheet the awesome box is the blank box to the left of the column A indicator and the row 1 indicator. This shows an arrow pointing at this location.

After selecting all of the cells, click on the word wrap icon in the tool bar. This is located by finding the centering icon. To the right of centering is to center vertically (which is suggested to do as well). To the right of that is the word wrap icon. Click on the tiny triangle to select the middle option, wrap.

Google sheets toolbar showing the centering icon, the vertical centering icon, and the 3rd icon is text wrapping with the middle option being to wrap.

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Adjust Column Width

Get your mouse in between the column indicators to increase the width of the individual cells. When the mouse changes from a pointer arrow to a flat arrow. Hold down with the mouse to drag the column width either smaller or larger.

GIF image of the columns in a spreadsheet being made smaller and larger.

Enter Content

What is the information you are entering into your Google Doc? Arrange this on the Google Sheet. You do not need to worry about page width since the purpose of this article is how to lock out editing on PARTS of the Google Doc, which means it will be edited on the computer instead of printed to paper.

Merge Cells

There are circumstances where it is helpful to merge cells together to achieve the same layout of the Google Doc. Highlight multiple cells and click on the merge icon in the toolbar. You can locate the merge icon by locating the paint can in the toolbar. Paint can, borders tool, and then the merge tool is a broken square with 2 arrows pointing in. This allows you to create LARGE blocks of text.

Paint can icon, borders icon, merge cells icon. The tiny arrow drop down allows for merge all.

Create Answer Boxes

There are areas of the document you want students, or users, to enter text. Identify those ranges. It may be helpful to use the border tool in the toolbar to create the answer line. If you want more room to respond, you may want to increase the row height. On the left edge of the spreadsheet hover your mouse between the two row indicators until the pointer arrow changes. Hold down your mouse and drag to increase the row height.

Click on the cell with the answer box and locate the rectangle borders tool in the toolbar. Select the bottom border to create the line. make the row taller for additional room.

Lock the Ranges

Important to note: You can NOT lock the owner of a spreadsheet out of editing.

If you use Google Classroom to make a copy per student the student is the owner of the spreadsheet and can not be locked out of editing.

sheetPusher

If you need to make a copy per user where you are still the owner of the spreadsheet try my Add-on sheetPusher. This collects no user data! Coded by me, Alice Keeler, to help with how to update individual student spreadsheets all at once. Design your spreadsheet activity and then use the sheetPusher Add-on in Google Sheets to copy the sheet per student.

Protect Range

You can lock editing on cells by highlighting the cells you do NOT want the student, or user, to edit. Right click or use the Data menu to “Protect sheets and ranges.”

data menu with protect sheets and ranges highlighted

In the sidebar you can optionally name the protected range. Click on the “Set permissions” button.

sidebar of protected sheets and ranges. Select range

The next pop up will ask who can edit this range. Select “Only you.”

How to Lock Areas of a Google Doc. pop up box of range editing permissions. unselected is show a warnign when editing this range. Selected is restrict who can edit this range. In the drop down only you is selected.

Hide Gridlines

The real trick to disguising your spreadsheet as a Google Doc is to remove the gridlines. Use the View menu to select “Show” and uncheck “Gridlines.” This will create a solid white document that looks like a Google Doc.

view menu in google sheets. selected show and hovering over gridlines

How to Lock Areas of a Google Doc

You want to restrict editing on PART of a Google Doc. This step by step guide will show you a hack for how to lock areas of a google doc.

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How to Lock Areas of a Google Doc

  1. Create a Google Sheets spreadsheet
  2. Turn on word wrap for the entire sheet
  3. Increase or Decrease columns widths
  4. Use border tool to create answer boxes
  5. Highlight protected regions
  6. Use the Data menu to protect the range
  7. Use the View menu to remove gridlines

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