Protect Word Documents

When you send out Word documents to a limited number of trusted recipients, it’s unlikely you’ll feel the need to apply protection. If you’re asking for it to be reviewed, you’ll probably have set Track Changes on. Sometimes, though, you can’t be sure in whose hands the document might fall, and then you’ll need to prevent it from being changed.

Here’s how to achieve that. Open the File menu and select the button to Protect Document.

Word document protection info
Word document protection info

There are four levels of protection that Word allows.

Mark as Final

This is the first option. Select it and a message tells you:

Word document protection confirmation
Word document protection confirmation

Click OK. Another message pops up:

“This document has been marked as final to indicate that editing is complete and that this is the final version of the document. When a document is marked as final, the status property is set to ‘Final’ and typing, editing commands, and proofing marks are turned off. You can recognize that a document is marked as final when the Mark as Final icon displays in the status bar.”

This won’t prevent you from updating your copy when you need to.

When the recipient opens the document, they’ll see this message:

 “MARKED AS FINAL. An author has marked this document as final to discourage editing.”

(Note the word “discourage”. The recipient actually sees a button saying Edit Anyway. If they go ahead and make a change, they can also set the document as final if they choose to do so.)

Encrypt with Password

Word document encryption
Word document encryption

This is a more secure option than marking as final. The process is straightforward. Enter a password, re-enter it to confirm, close the document. Now open it with the password to check that it’s worked.

Save the password in a safe place. If you use this method for a number of documents, you may find it advantageous to keep a record of each document and its password in a spreadsheet.

You can remove the password by selecting Protect Document and Encrypt with Password again and deleting whatever is in the Password field. Re-save the document.

Restrict Editing

When you choose this option, the document is shown with a panel on the right:

Word document restrict editing
Word document restrict editing

As can be seen, you can restrict either or both formatting and content.

Formatting

If you elect to restrict formatting, select Settings…

Word document format constraints
Word document format constraints

By default, all styles may be changed. You can select None or allow only the Recommended Minimum. I prefer None, as style changes can have unintended consequences. It’s also a good idea not to allow theme or scheme changes or Quick Style Set switching.

Editing

If you check Allow only this type of editing in the document, additional options are shown:

Word document editing constraints
Word document editing constraints

The default is No changes (Read only). Tracked changes, Comments, Filling in forms can all prove useful if you’re looking for detailed review of the contents, but they’re mutually exclusive. If you need them all, then you don’t need to restrict editing.

The Exceptions (optional) section applies only if No changes (Read only) is chosen. Select More users… to identify the users who may make changes. Otherwise the document is read-only.

Start enforcement

Select Yes, Start Enforcement Protection to complete the protection settings. You will prompted for a password:

Word document start protection
Word document start protection

Save the document and re-open it to see the effects. To cancel Enforcement Protection, click the Stop Protection button at the bottom of the right pane, enter the password, and click OK.

Add a Digital Signature

Word document digital signature
Word document digital signature

NOTE: You need a digital signature to take advantage of this one. You can get one from a Microsoft partner.

Choose your commitment type and purpose and click Sign. You have now applied a digital signature to your document. The recipient will be informed of this when they open the document, which will be in read-only mode.

To remove a digital signature, select Info > Protect Document. Click View Signatures. In the Signatures pane, select the arrow next to the signature and click Remove Signature followed by Yes.

Search & Replace Across Word Files
Formatting List Paragraph? Forget it. (Word)

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