Word 2003 Redaction Tool

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Microsoft has released a redaction tool for Word 2003. The purpose of the tool is to let you convert text into black bars for censorship.

Microsoft has released a redaction tool for Word 2003. If you’re wondering what redaction is, see a separate article below.

The purpose of the tool is to let you convert text into black bars. We all know the look of government documents with names, sentences or paragraphs blacked out with a heavy felt pen. The Redaction tool is an overdue electronic version of that – but hopefully more secure.

Or to hark back to the 70’s – it’s a way to make sure expletives stay deleted.

The old ink blacking out could possibly be subverted with the right technology. Using a black highlighter option in electronic documents isn’t enough because the words are still stored ‘underneath’ the highlighting. This is mistake that caught the US military back in May when they released a PDF to the media which the journos quickly removed the highlight to see the confidential info.

The tool is officially called Office 2003 Add-in: Word Redaction which leads some people to think it can be used in Excel or other Office programs, but that’s not the case. It is a Word 2003 only tool – not applicable to other Office 2003 programs (except Word acting as an email editor in Outlook). There’s no tool for earlier versions of Office.


The download is a small 1MB as an .msi file. You need to close all instances of Word and Microsoft gives some strange advice about this.

As many OW readers know, there is a hidden instance of Word acting as the Outlook email editor. So it is not enough to just close any open Word documents, you need to shut down the Word sitting ready to make an email.

The prudent way to do that is to close Outlook and disconnect any portable devices that use ActiveSync. Microsoft recommendation is to go into the Windows Task Manager and shut down only the instance of winword.exe showing in the Processes tab. That seemed like a strange piece of advice because Outlook often misbehaves if Word shuts down separately. Sure enough, we tried shutting down the winword.exe instance then tried to create a new message with mixed results. Sometimes a new message window opened after a notable pause. Other times there was much computer processing but nothing ever happened, Outlook worked until you tried to use any Word related function.

We suggest you take the cautious path and shut down Outlook to install any Word add-ins. Once the redaction tool is installed Word and Outlook with Word work fine.


There are two steps to redacting a document – Marking the text for redacting, then actually redacting the text.

Marking consists of changing text to have Gray 25% shading – it is this formatting that is used to distinguish text to be blacked out from visible text. Since there’s no special character property to separate text to be redacted, ‘Gray 25% shading’ is the workaround.

The Redaction button then searches the document for all text with Gray 25% formatting and replaces it with a character and formatting that results in the ‘black bar’ look.

It is all done via the Redaction toolbar that is available in Word 2003 (right-click in a blank space on the toolbar to select from a list of toolbars):


Select text and click on the Mark button on the toolbar. The marked text is visually changed to have a Gray 25% shading. Manually changing the shading setting doesn’t generate an error but the formatting doesn’t actually change.

Remove Mark

Select some marked text and click this button to remove the marking.

Show Marks

This will force all text marked for redaction to be displayed with the gray 25% shading.

Hide Marks

All the redaction marking can be hidden (but not removed) using this button.

Redact Document

This will convert all the Gray 25% shaded text into solid black lines. It can take a few minutes depending on the number of redactions. The original marked document is copied to a new unnamed document and that copy is redacted.

There is NO going back from redaction once it is done. You can’t recover the text that is ‘blacked out’, but you should still have the original marked, but not redacted, document.

The marking interim step lets people collaborate on what is to be redacted. It also means you could mark text for redaction as the document is being prepared rather than as a separate process later.


When the redaction process is done you get the choice to protect the document. This will lock the document with an automatically generated and undisclosed password. In effect it renders the redacted document unchangeable even by the original authors.


Microsoft has this list of document elements that are redacted:

  • Document body
  • Tables
  • Headers
  • Footers
  • Endnotes
  • Footnotes
  • Fields
  • Table of Contents
  • Table of Authorities
  • Index
  • Table of Figures


According to Microsoft the following things are NOT redacted:

  • Graphics
  • Comments
  • Content in textboxes or frames

However there is a warning given to carefully check the final document.

One place not capable of redaction is the document properties File | Properties which you need to check manually for keywords or other information.


Redaction has some advantages over just deleting the text.

Redaction retains the formatting of the original document. Page references stay the same in the original and redacted versions.

In some cases it is necessary or at least a proper disclosure to let the recipient see how much and where redaction has taken place.


It’s important to keep in mind that text marking is done by using the Gray 25% shading option. The redaction process simply changes ALL Gray 25% shading to black lines whether you marked it with the Redaction toolbar button or not.

You need to avoid Gray 25% shading for any other purpose in a document that might be redacted later on.

While the Redaction tool stops you from changing the shading manually when the tool is installed, keep in mind that if someone edits the document without the tool they could remove the shading marks, leading to text being exposed.

You can redact an email message but the email text is copied to a new normal document and the redaction is done there. If you want to put the redacted text into an email you will have to copy the text to an outgoing message.

The tool appears in the Add/Remove Programs list (under ‘Microsoft Office Word 2003 Redaction Add-in’) so you can uninstall it from there, provided you shut down Word completely first.

To redact an Excel worksheet, copy it into a Word document as tables then use the redaction tool.

To redact a Powerpoint presentation, copy it into a Word document then use the redaction tool.

To redact an email message or series of messages, copy them into a Word document first – then go crazy marking and redacting.


The Word 2003 Redaction tool is a useful addition to the Word users armory. It won’t be for everyone, certainly. Most of us would never have to edit confidential documents in this way before release to others. But it is an important requirement for some and thus a notable omission from Word until now.

But it is a tool not a solution. Microsoft is careful to warn people to carefully check documents before release.


Redaction? We’ve rarely heard the word. Just a small aside for those of us who are interested in words.

It sounds like something you avoid in high school chemistry viz “If you see redaction in the beaker, take cover immediately.” but no.

According to my trusty Oxford English Dictionary it has four meanings starting in 1659 some of which are similar, but not as narrowly defined as Microsoft does:

“Redaction is the careful editing of a document to remove confidential information”

Which is a focused meaning not even given in Microsoft’s own Encarta dictionary. The OED talks about redaction being a general process of editing to make an abridged version or preparing for publication, revision or rearrangement.


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