When you're sharing a Google Document with someone else, it's usually because you'd like their feedback or their help with editing the presentation, document, or spreadsheet. But sometimes, you really just want your recipient to make a copy of the original document.

Maybe you're sending a worksheet to a class of 20 students and you want them all to complete and return their own copy of the original worksheet. Or maybe you're sending a template roster document to several group leaders and you want them each to copy and complete their own copies of the roster.

In this tutorial, I'll show you a trick that will force your recipients to make copies of shared Google Docs.

For this method to work, it's worth mentioning that both you and your recipients will need to have Google accounts. OK let's get to it.

1. First, open your template document (the one you want to distribute), click on the Share button.

2. You need to make sure that your recipients can view this document. You can grant them higher permissions (commenting or editing privileges), but in most cases "Viewer" is what you want. 

3. Click on the small gear button in the sharing dialog box. Ensure that the box labeled "Viewers and commenters can see the option to download, print, and copy" is checked. Click the back arrow to return to the sharing dialog box, then close it.

3. While viewing your template document, select the document's URL and press Ctrl + C to copy it.

4. You want to get this link to your recipients. Whatever method you use, first you want to make an important change to this long string of gobbly-gook. Paste that copied URL, delete the word "edit" that appears at the end, and replace it with the word "copy":

5. This new, modified URL you've created is the one you want to send to your recipients. When they click on your modified link, they'll see a dialog box from Google asking if they want to make a copy of the document.

6. If your recipient clicks "Make a copy", a new copy of the document will appear in their Google Drive. This new copy will be private to them. You won't have access to it, and neither will editors or collaborators on the original template.

A Few Notes:

  • This trick only works with Google documents (docs, sheets, slides, drawings, etc). It won't work for PDFs, JPEGs, Microsoft Office documents, or other non-Google formatted files. For non-Google documents, you can instead craft a URL that will force recipients to download a copy.
  • While this URL-editing technique will give your recipients the option to make a copy of the original document, it doesn't prevent them from viewing (and if they have permission, editing) the original document. The recipient, if they're savvy, can just change the word "copy" back to "edit" or "view" in the URL.
  • One last bonus trick: if you change the final word of the document URL to "preview" (instead of "edit", "view", or "copy"), you can force the recipient to view the document in 'preview mode', which gives them a look at the document without any of the editing tools visible. I can't think of many good uses for this, but it's there! The screenshots below show the difference between edit mode and preview mode.