How to Protect a Word Document

Microsoft Word 2013 supports a range of features that protect a document from being edited or opened. These features include fine-grain control that allows you to set permissions for individuals or to control edits for specific parts of a document. Choose whether to password-protect your document, as well. Access these features under the File menu's Protect Document option.

Mark a Collaborative Document as 'Final'

When collaborating with multiple users on a single document, mark it as final when you consider the document done and want to end the editing phase. This feature makes the file read-only, but it doesn't implement any security: any user can remove the Mark as Final flag to make the file writeable.

To mark a file as final, click the Info menu, select Protect Document and then Mark as Final. Word launches a dialog informing you that the document will be marked as final and then saved. After you click OK and return to the document's Edit view, Word displays a banner "Marked as Final" below the menu bar.

Choose Mark as Final.
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To remove the Read Only flag and continue to edit the document, click the Edit Anyway button that displays at the top of the document.

Restrict Formatting and Editing

Limit editing or formatting changes to specific parts of a document using the Restrict Editing feature, accessed by selecting the File menu, clicking the Protect Document icon and choosing Restrict Editing.

Choose No Changes (Read only).
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To restrict editing, click the check box under Editing Restrictions, retaining the default No changes (Read only) selection in the drop-down menu.

Control the level of editing limitations in two ways:

  • Identify exceptions for specific individuals who should have editing privileges by adding them to the list under Exceptions (optional).
  • Identify parts of the document in which to allow edits by first selecting the text -- this can be a word, phrase, sentence or entire blocks of text -- and then clicking either Everyone under the Exceptions section or selecting specific users who can edit that text.

This feature offers several other options, including restricting formatting changes and enforcing restrictions using a password.

Encrypt a Document With a Password

The ultimate protection is to password-protect a document, so that a user can open and view it only with a password. Be careful with this one: If you lose or forget your password, Word cannot help you retrieve it, and you will be locked out of your own document.

To access this feature, select the File menu, click the Protect Document icon and select Encrypt with Password.

Choose Encrypt with Password.
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A simple dialog launches in which you enter and then re-enter a password. To later remove a password, return to the Encrypt with Password dialog and delete the password.

For more security, combine this feature with editing restrictions.

Activate Information Rights Management

The most powerful way to protect a Word document is to use Information Rights Management, which can prevent not only viewing and editing but also printing, forwarding and copying. This feature is useful especially for corporations to enforce policy restrictions on official company content and documents.

Most individuals won't find this tool useful or even possible to configure, however. To enable IRM requires that Active Directory Rights Management Services is installed on a Windows server, or an Azure RMS subscription. This configuration is likely to be the task of a corporate IT department.

To access this feature, select the File menu, Protect Document and then Restrict Access.

Choose Restrict Access.
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Word attempts to connect to your Rights Management server for templates, which works only if a server is properly set up.