Limit editing and collaboration within a Word document

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There are options in Word to limit access a document in different ways.  It’s more fine-grained control of what people can do in the document rather than the entire document permissions options we’ve mentioned before.

Restrict Editing options let you collaborate on a document more broadly without the risk that important parts will be changed or edits made without a clear reviewing trace.

Word has options to:

  • Limit formatting to specific styles
  • Force ‘Track Changes’ to always be on
  • Let people add Comments only
  • Only Fill in forms
  • Truly force ‘Read Only’ document status.

Restrict Editing

When you click on this item, the Restrict Editing sidebar will appear on the right-hand side of the document. (You can also access this option by going to Review | Restrict Editing.)

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After you’ve made your choices, remember to click the button  Yes, Start Enforcing Protection.

Formatting restrictions

This is really useful if you want to keep a consistent look to your document and don’t want people using random styles and formatting. Tick this box and click Settings to open the Formatting Restrictions dialog.

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Recommended Minimum

Microsoft provides a Recommended Minimum button, which still allows a fairly large set of styles, but removes some of the more obscure or unusual ones. If you want to create your own set of allowable styles, you can start out by clicking the All or None button to tick all or no styles and then start from there to add or remove the ones you want/don’t want.

For example, if I want very restricted formatting – just three levels of headings and plain body text (Normal style), I will click None to remove all styles, then find the body text and three heading styles, and tick only those ones.

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There are three more options at the bottom for you to choose:

  • Allow AutoFormat to override formatting restrictions – Ticking this box will allow the autoformat options applied under File | Options | Proofing | Autocorrect Options | AutoFormat to override any restrictions set up here. Generally you would leave this unticked.
  • Block Theme or Scheme switching – Prevents users from choosing another theme on the Design tab. It’s a good idea to tick this one if you want to protect the overall look of the document.
  • Block Quick Style Set switching – Stops users from changing to a different style set by clicking on the arrow at the bottom right corner under Design | Document Formatting. Again, good for protecting the overall look of the document.

When you click OK, you may get a message warning you that the document currently includes styles that have you just chosen not to allow, and asks if you want to remove them. If you click Yes, the relevant parts of text will be changed to plain text.

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This document may contain formatting or styles that aren’t allowed. Do you want to remove them?

Start Enforcing Protection

To enforce the restrictions you have just applied, there is still one more step – at Step 3 on the sidebar, click Yes, Start Enforcing Protections and you will be asked to enter a password or choose user authentication for permission to remove the editing restrictions.

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Once you have enforced these formatting restrictions, most of the formatting buttons will be disabled on the ribbon, and only the selected styles will be available in the Styles section.

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Editing restrictions

Allows you to restrict what sort of content can be edited. There are four options here:

Track Changes

Tracked changes allows the user to edit anything in the document, but Track Changes will always be on. This is a really important option for document collaboration. Without it, people can accidently or deliberately make changes to the document which won’t be obvious in the Review pane.

The only way to turn off Track Changes is with the document password.

Comments only

Comments only allows users to add comments to the text. They cannot make any changes to the actual content or formatting of the document.

Forms only

Filling in forms is only used when you have created a form in Word. The user can fill out the form fields, but cannot make any other changes to the document.

Force Read Only

No changes (Read only) is a much more effective way of making a document read only. While Always Open Read Only is really only a suggestion, the Read Only mode implemented here is enforced. No changes can be made to anything in the document without the password (or user authentication).

Exceptions

For two of these options – Comments and No Changes – an Exceptions field will become available, so that you can allow certain groups of users to not be affected by these restrictions.

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Again, as with formatting restrictions, to enforce the restrictions you have just applied, you need to click Yes, Start Enforcing Protections and enter a password or choose user authentication.

Stop or Remove Editing Restrictions

Once you have enforced some editing restrictions, the options will disappear from the sidebar. So how do you remove the restrictions if you need to? Easy – at the bottom of the sidebar is a Stop Protection button.

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If the sidebar itself is no longer showing, you can restore it by:

  • Going back to File | Protect Document and clicking Restrict Editing again.
  • Going to Review | Restrict Editing.

Click Stop Protection, enter the password again, and the restrictions will be removed.

Restrict Access

This option allows you to restrict access to the document to certain users or groups of users. Your organization needs to be using Information Rights Management (IRM) to be able to use this feature.

Once you have this feature, there are different levels of control that you can enforce for different users or groups – you can choose whether they can read, change, or have full control over the document.


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