Working with a Word Protected Document

About this topic

I recently received a question regarding how to setup a protected Word document enabling users to edit some regions of a document while locking access to other sections. The users would only be able to format the content they are adding/editingĀ  that the author allow. Sounds simple? Well, it is not difficult but can definitively be tricky if you are not familiar with the rules.

This post explains how to password protect a Word document yet allowing certain regions to be edited and formatted using styles or optionally any Word formatting features. The screenshots use Word 2013-16.

About Using Styles

One important prerequisite is that you must be familiar with Styles. If the look and feel of the document is important to you then you can optionally limit formatting in theĀ protected document to using Styles.

You may need to create new styles or edit existing ones. This way, as mentioned, you can limit formatting content to using styles only. When a document is Locked for editing with the approach described above, the only way you one can format the content of the regions is through Styles. All formatting features located in the Font and the Paragraph groups would be dimmed.

Scope of this post

You can download a copy of the Word document ‘Applying Themes in Word 2016‘ and a PDF file that includes a short tutorial to follow along or use any of your documents. It also contains more details of the topic discussed here.

What we want to achieve is to protect a document from being modified except for a few regions that need to be customized by various people in your team. This may be useful for quotes or proposals where some content will never (or rarely) change but other regions differ for varying situations. For the sake of consistency, in this the tutorial, formatting will be done with styles.

In the document ‘Applying Themes in Word 2016’ there are four regions where the user can make modifications:

  • On page 1 the paragraph under the subtitle Region 1.
  • On page 2 the bullet points under the subtitle Region 2.
  • On page 2 the paragraph under the subtitle Region 3.
  • On page 3 at the end of the document, the staff name in the signature.

The Restrict Editing panel

In the Review tab click the button Restrict Editing on the far right. This will display the Restrict Editing panel. Let’s briefly look at the three options:

Formatting restrictions – It is recommended (but not an absolute necessity) that you enable the Limit formatting to a selection of styles option.

Editing restrictions – Allows you to specify the type of restriction to be enforced. For our purpose, leave this option to No changes (Read only).

When the Editing Restrictions is ticked, the Exceptions (optional) option appears.

Exceptions (optional) – This is the part where you select the regions the user will be able to make modifications to the content. Ensure that the Everyone option is enabled.

Start Enforcement – Click the self explanatory button Yes, Start Enforcing Protection to open the dialog box where you can (optionally) enter a password.

Step 1 – Optionally limit any formatting to using styles

Enable the option Limit formatting to a selection of styles then click the Settings link. In the Formatting Restrictions dialog box click the checkbox Limit formatting to a selection of style.

If you click None then only the Normal style will be available so that you can type some content. Clicking All will allow you to use all styles available in the underlying template.

To somewhat limit formatting to common formatting select Recommended Minimum.I recommend that you scroll down and uncheck styles that you do not want to be used in the anywhere in your document (including the protected areas). This option still allows a rich set of styles. You may want to ensure that your custom styles are enabled.

Note: It is recommended (but not an absolute necessity) that you enable the Limit formatting to a selection of styles option. If you do not all Word formatting features in the Home tab will be available.

Clicking OK will display a message to the effect that your document may be using styles that are not allowed (or unchecked in the previous step). The safest option is to click No. If you click Yes and the document uses used bullet lists or other styles (not allowed where the user can edit the content) Word would reset these areas to Normal. Click OK when done.

Step 2 – Editing restrictions

If all you want is to limit any editing to specific regions, click the Allow only this type of editing in the document. Ensure that the list shows No changes (Read Only). The other options restrict the user to filling forms, add comments to the document or using Track changes.

Exceptions (optional)

This is where you specify the regions the users can edit. These regions are paragraphs or part of a paragraph that users will be able to be modified.

To quickly select a paragraph, double click in the left margin next to the paragraph. Once done click the check box Everyone.

You can also also select just a sentence in a paragraph. When the protection is enforced the users will only be able to modify this sentence but not the rest of the paragraph!

As an example, You may want to type a paragraph containing the text: <Enter the specification here> so that the user knows what needs to go there. Another use could be the paragraph: <Type the list of clauses here>. Once a paragraph is selected check the box Everyone panel. Repeat this procedure for every regions in your document. Once a region is flagged as an exception, it will be delimited by grey square brackets to be easily located. Below is an example.

If you want to disable this feature for a region, click in the region then uncheck the Everyone box.

Step 3 – Enabling protection

Finally, when you are done specifying all regions to be edited click Yes, Start Enforcing Protection. Optionally enter your password then clock OK. The password is optional because you may need to test you setting multiple times before you are happy with the configuration of the document. This way you can quickly disable the protection and make the necessary changes. You would add a password once all is perfect.

Finding areas I can edit

When the document is protected, every region the users can edit are highlighted. The Restrict Editing panel on the right now shows the following buttons:

  • Find Next Region I Can Edit
  • Show All Regions I Can Edit

These buttons are pretty self explanatory. You may want to move at the top of the document before you click on the Find Next button. The Show All Regions button simply selects the regions. Which is different than highlighting them.

However, just below the two buttons is a checkbox allows you to actually highlight the regions. This way you can quick scroll down to find the next region. Unfortunately the highlight will not print. That would have been nice.

About Using Styles

In a protected document, depending on how you dealt with using styles, all Word features strictly designed for formatting are disabled whether you are in a protected section or in a section that you have editing rights. However the majority of styles are available.

Again, if you want to allow the users to use all formatting commands in the Home tab, simply do not bother with the steps in the section Formatting Restrictions.

Unlock the Protection in a Document

In the Review tab click Restrict Editing to display the panel on the right. At the very bottom of the Restrict Editing panel you will find the Stop Protection button. Of course you will be required to supply the password.


Protecting a document in this fashion is not something you’d need everyday but it is nice to know how it works. Hopefully you have learned something useful in this post.

Daniel from ComboProjects


MS Office Trainer for 23 years. I am also an Access developer and I love teaching VBA in Excel.

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