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How to Protect Microsoft Word Documents

Do you need to protect a Word document? Learn how to add a password, make documents read-only, and use other techniques to safeguard your most sensitive and critical files.

How to Protect Microsoft Word Documents

You can take steps to secure a Microsoft Word document if it contains sensitive information. Perhaps you want to restrict access to it to only you and a few others. Maybe you’d like to limit the types of modifications that someone made. You should even confidently tell readers that this is the final version of the Word document. You can do all this and more in Word if you know which tools to use.

The most recent versions of Microsoft Word provide several options for document security, including read-only modepassword protectionediting restrictions, and digital signatures. You can also mark a document as final to let others know it has not changed since you last saved it.

These options are available in Word 2021, Word 2019, Word 2016, Word 2013, Word 2010, and Word for Mac, but we are using the Microsoft 365 version of Word for reference. The ability to mark a document as final and read-only is separate in this version but combined in previous Word releases.

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Read-Only Mode

Read-Only Mode

You can prevent others from editing a Word document by making it read-only. Click File > Info > Protect Document to view your security options. Select Always Open Read-Only from the Protect Document menu. Just save the Word document, close it, and reopen it.

Select Yes to open the Word document in read-only mode. Word displays a message informing you that the author prefers you open this as read-only unless you need to make changes. Of course, anyone can refuse and open the File in edit mode. The goal is to make it easier for people to open the Document as read-only to reduce the possibility of unintended changes.

Select File > Info > Protect Document > Always Open Read-Only.

Open the document in edit mode to remove the read-only restriction. At the top left, select File > Info > Protect Document > Always Open Read-Only.

Password Encryption

Password Encryption

Encrypting a Word document with a password is possible by going to File > Info > Protect Document and selecting the Encrypt with Password option.

Create a password for the Document.

Word will ask you to create a password for the Document. Because there is no way to retrieve or reset the code if you forget it, use a complex but memorable password.

Confirm Password.

Confirm the password and click OK.

Important: Remember that passwords are case-sensitive.

Now save the document, close it, and reopen it, and Word will prompt you (and anyone else) to enter a password to access it.

Go to the File menu, select Info, and choose Protect Document, followed by Encrypt with Password to remove the password. You will see a pop-up window where you can delete the obscured password, then click OK. If you save and close the Document, you will not be prompted for a password the next time you open it.

Restrict Format Editing

Restrict Format Editing

You can restrict how people can edit your Document. At the top left, click File > Info > Protect Document and select Restrict Editing. Your Document will then display a Restrict Editing pane for formatting and editing restrictions on the right-hand side. You can grant people permission to read your Document, select which sections they can edit, and specify how they do so.

Document displaying a Restrict Editing pane for formatting and editing restrictions on the right-hand side.

To prevent people from changing the formatting of your Word document, check the box next to “Limit formatting to a selection of styles.” Click Settings to bring the Formatting Restrictions pop-up window, displaying all the style changes permitted by default. You can leave it, change it to the Recommended Minimum, or remove it entirely. If you’re unsure which setting to use, go with Recommended Minimum.

You can also check any of the three Formatting options:

  1. Allow AutoFormat to override formatting restrictions.
  2. Prevent switching themes or schemes.
  3. Avoid changing the Quick Style Set.

If you’re not sure, uncheck these three options. To close the Formatting Restrictions window, click OK.

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Restrict Content Editing

Restrict Content Editing

Check the box next to “Allow only this type of editing in the document” under Editing Restrictions to specify how readers can change the content of the Word document. Click the drop-down menu to the right to select one of four options:

Tracked changes
  • Tracked changes enable Track Changes in the Word document while restricting all other types of Editing.
Comments
  • Comments allow readers to leave comments in your word document without modifying it.
Filling in forms
  • Filling in forms allow readers to fill out forms you have created but not change the content.
No changes (Read-only)
  • No changes (Read-only) puts your Word document in read-only mode, preventing any changes.

Editing Exceptions

Editing Exceptions

You can create exceptions for people to be able to edit specific parts of your Document if you check the option for Comments or No changes (Read-only). Check the box for Everyone in the Exceptions section and select any parts of the Document that you want to be editable.

Enforce Protection

Enforce Protection

When you save the document, close it, and reopen it, you’ll notice that the editing controls on the top ribbon have been grayed out. If you allow editing in certain document sections, click in that area to re-access the rules. Once everything is in place, click “Yes, Enforce Protection,” then type and retype a password before clicking OK.

Select Review tab > Restrict Editing. Click the Stop Protection button, enter the password and click OK.

Navigate to the Review tab and select the Restrict Editing icon to disable the protection. At the bottom of the Restrict Editing pane, click the Stop Protection button, enter the password and click OK. Uncheck the Formatting and Editing Restrictions options that appear on the pane.

Add Digital Signature

Add Digital Signature

To add a digital signature to your document, go to File > Info > Protect Document and select Add a Digital Signature. It informs readers that you and no one else signed your Word document, indicating that you were the last person to revise and save it.

A signing certificate is required to create a digital signature. When you do this for the first time, Word displays a message asking if you want to set up a digital signature. When you click Yes, a Microsoft support page will appear to assist you in locating a digital ID. To obtain a digital ID:

  1. Click on the links for the various providers.
  2. Select “Add or remove a digital signature in Office files” from the drop-down menu.
  3. Scroll down to find out how to add a digital signature.

Return to the Protect Document button and click Add a Digital Signature once you’ve obtained the digital ID. Fill in the required fields and then click the Sign button. If prompted to confirm the digital signature, click OK.

Your Document is now signed digitally and rendered read-only. The Document has been signed and marked as final, according to Word. Anyone who opens the Document will see the digital signature notice. If anyone tampers with it, the signatures become invalid.

Mark As Final

Mark As Final

You can still mark the Document as final in an unofficial manner if you do not use a digital signature. Select Mark as Final from the File > Info > Protect Document menu. Word will notify you that this document is now final and will be saved. When you mark a document as Final, you disable typingEditing, and proofing capabilities. Any reader who opens the Document will see a message indicating that the author has marked it as final.

A message informs an author has marked this document as final to discourage editing.

When a user opens the Document, a message at the top of the screen informs them of the File’s status. However, by clicking the Edit Anyway button, a reader can still change the Document’s content. When they click that button, they can edit and resave the Document.

The ultimate goal of this option is not to prevent anyone from editing the Document but to tell readers that it is the recommended final version. If someone still wants to edit the Document further, Word will record their actions. When a person marks a Word document as Final, then edits it again, the original person who locked it remains as the author, while the other person remains as the person who last modified the Document.

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How to Restrict Editing in Word?

Open a Word document and click the Review tab. In the Protect group, select Restrict Editing. On the right, under Editing restrictions, check on the Allow only this type of editing in the document box. Click the editing restrictions drop-down arrow and choose No changes (Read-only). Highlight the section of the document where you want to permit changes. How to Restrict Editing in Word

How to Remove Restrict Editing in Word?

Open a Word document from which you want to remove Restrict Editing. Select the Review tab, and from the Protect group, choose Restrict Editing. From the Restrict Formatting and Editing pane on the right, click Stop Protection. How to Remove Restrict Editing in Word


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