Show and Tell: Google Docs Text Conversion

Aside from doing (and knowing) everything, there is a neat feature on Google Docs that you might find immensely helpful if you find yourself doing archival research.

When researching at the archives, most people take digital photographs of the documents they’re looking at. At the end of a day you’re left with hundreds of photographs that you now have to sort through, catalog, read, and take notes on. Personally, I used to print all of my images and then spend hours going through them highlighting the key points and making general notes based on what the documents contained.

Google Docs now has a feature where you can upload a photograph of a document and it will convert it into keyword searchable text. It can be done completely automatically in two easy steps.

Step One: Select your image file to upload (it must be less than 2mb) Make sure you select: “Convert text from PDF and Image files”

Step Two: There is no step two. Google does everything for you. What you end up with is your uploaded image file like so:

And directly below the image will be your converted text:

The text conversion is never 100% perfect and the accuracy depends on how clear the original document is, but it is still far more efficient than manually transcribing or taking notes on each document. An additional benefit is that you now have an archived copy of all your files in case something happens to the originals. Plus you can also use the search feature on Google Docs to keyword search all of your documents at once in case you need some information you remember seeing but can’t remember what document it was in.

2 Replies to “Show and Tell: Google Docs Text Conversion”

  1. Allen – this is pretty cool. What will Google think of next?? Of course the text conversion will never be 100% perfect, but it’s pretty amazing that this feature can decipher text from a photograph that you yourself have taken. I’m assuming this doesn’t work with handwritten text, right?
    Also, how does this work with foreign languages? Is there an option to choose from a list of languages? Is there a language text converter?
    All in all this is a great feature by Google. Like you said, an additional benefit is to have another copy of the document in case something happens to the original. Of course, in case of any unfortunate happenstance, you will have to immediately go back through and correct any incorrect text displayed. I don’t know if I would suggest institutions use this feature, but we students should be more encouraged to do so!

  2. Thank you so much for posting this! I had no idea that Google Docs was able to do so much. Do you think that scholars might find this tool useful? I can imagine myself using this feature to create small, rough, personal collections of documents related to different areas of my research, but I’m not certain professionals would feel the same. Are you aware of any limitations or problems that Google Docs has with converting or searching through uploaded files?

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