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Alice Keeler

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.
How to Lock Areas of a Google Doc

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: how to lock areas of a Google Doc.

Why Lock Parts of 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.”

Learn More about Google Docs from Teacher Tech

How to Lock Areas of a Google Doc turn your google sheets into a Google Doc

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.

Google Sheets DOES have the capability of locking PARTS. Formatting a Google Sheets to look like a Google Doc is the trick. While this may appear to be multiple steps, you will get the hang of it quickly.

Consider the Grid to Lock Areas of a Google Doc

Consider which parts of your “Google Doc” that you want to lock. You will want a cell for this locked area. 

Consider the Print Area

Use Control P to print a Google Sheets spreadsheet. Set the settings in the sidebar to be “Portrait.” Default is “Landscape.” The default is also “Fit to width. While your content will fit automatically, to ensure it looks like the intended Google Doc refrain from adding content that is not visible on the screen.

Set Word Wrap

By default, a Google Doc has word wrap set. 

The key to loving using Google Sheets is word wrap. Sheets defaults to 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.

Screenshot of the word wrap icon in the Google Sheets toolbar. Alice Keeler Queen of spreadsheets

Wrap Icon in the Toolbar

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.

Adjust Column Widths

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.

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 so long as you can see the text on your visible screen.

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.

Screenshot of the merge icon in Google Sheets. Merge all is the first option.

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.

GIF of adding a border to the bottom edge of a cell using the borders icon in the Google Sheets toolbar.

Lock the Ranges

There are a couple of ways to lock editing on certain cells. 

Protect Sheet

On the sheet tab, click on the tiny triangle. Select “Protect sheet.” This will bring up a sidebar. Check the checkbox for “Except certain cells.” List the range of cells that ARE allowed to be edited.

Protect Range

If you only want to lock down a few parts of the Google Doc in Sheets, protect the range instead. Highlight the cells that you do NOT want edited. Right click to select “Protect range.” Set the permissions to be “Only me.” 

For teachers: To lock the range of multiple spreadsheets will, to be honest, challenging. Use my SheetPusher Add-on to facilitate this. 

How to Lock the Areas of a Google Doc for Google Sheets

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

Google Sheets protect sheets and ranges except certain cells

Learn More about Google Sheets from Teacher Tech


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

sheetPusher Add-on

Created by Alice Keeler. Collects NO user data. 

Push values to multiple student spreadsheets. 

Lock students from editing parts of their assignment.

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.

Quick Steps: 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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