Restrictions and Permissions Settings for Editing a Microsoft Word Document

Do you need to share a word processing document with someone but want to limit what text the recipient can edit? For instance, would you like to create a pre-approved contract that allows some clauses to be editable? Or do you have standard internal documents that you would like to make available to everyone but limit editing of certain portions? Did you know that, unlike PDF creation tools that only allow a user to apply copy, print and edit restrictions to the whole document, Microsoft Word gives the document creator a number of granular editing restrictions?  Just go to the Review tab and click on “Restrict Editing”  in the “Protect” group.

Restrict Editing toolbar

To apply editing restrictions in Microsoft Word 2010 or 2013 open the “Review” tab and click on “Restrict Editing” in the “Protect” group. This will open a new pane with two restriction options. If your firm makes extensive use of Styles and templates the first option “Formatting restrictions” may be of interest because you can keep others from changing formatted Styles, which includes auto-numbering, table of authorities and citations.

Exceptions to Read Only

The other restriction option is “Editing restrictions”. Check the box and then choose from the drop down menu to limit use of the document to track changes, add comments, or fill in form fields (see how to turn a MS Word document into a fillable form in our How To… Automate Functions in Word 2013 video). The last option in the drop down menu is “No changes (read only)”.

If you select to restrict a document to “Comments” “Filling in Forms” or “No changes (Read only)” another option appears, which is to allow exceptions to the editing restrictions. Simply select text in the document that you will allow users to have full editing rights to.  Click “Everyone” allow people to edit the selected sections.

Finally, click “Yes, Start Enforcing Protection”.  You will be prompted to create a password and confirm it. If you skip this step anyone who has access the document can stop enforcement of protections.

highlight editable regions

After you start enforcement anyone who opens the document (including you until you enter the password and stop enforcing protection) will be restricted to commenting, filling in forms, or merely viewing the document EXCEPT the portions that they have full edit rights to, which are highlighted for them.

Now that you know you can do this, I bet you can find some reasons to put it into action!

About Catherine Reach

Catherine Sanders Reach is the Director of Law Practice Management & Technology at the Chicago Bar Association.