How to Password Protect a Word Document

Use Microsoft Word tools to keep your content safe and secure

Secure Microsoft Word Content
Microsoft Word content can be password protected through these easy steps.

 Getty Images

There are several options to lock a Word document, limit permissions, and password protect your content. Most of these processes will work for versions of Microsoft Word 2010 and forward for both Windows and Mac; Word Online does not support password protected documents. The screen shots below apply to Microsoft Word for Windows users, with alternate paths detailed for Mac users as well.

Protect Your Document

Protect Document in Microsoft Word
Microsoft Word offers multiple ways to protect your document from unwanted readers and editors.

Clicking File in your Word document will take you to the Info screen. Here you have a toolset called Protect Document which provides the dropdown menu with three options for adding a variety of password protections to your document.

Option 1: Mark as Final (for versions of Microsoft Office after 2010 in Windows only)

Mark as Final in Microsoft Word
Selecting "Mark as Final" gives readers a warning and turns off all editing capabilities.

Selecting Mark as Final will inform anyone opening the document that it is complete—and also protect it to be “Read Only” and not allow any editing. It will also hide any remaining editing marks, tracked changes, or comments. A banner will appear across the top of the document to inform readers of the status.

This is the least secure option because it still allows readers to click Edit Anyway and change the document. It simply provides a way to openly share content while easily letting other participants know that the document is complete. 

Option 2: Encrypt with Password

Encrypt Document in Microsoft Word
The Encrypt Document option enables authors to require a password to open a Microsoft Word file.

The second option in the Protect Document list in is Encrypt with Password. Clicking on this option will open the Encrypt Document window, allowing you to create a password for the document.

Note: Word for Mac 2011 users will need to use the path Word > Preferences > Personal Settings > Security > Password to Open. Word for Mac 2016 and Office 365 for Mac users will follow Review > Protect Document to access the Security menu to set a password.

Password prompt in Microsoft Word
Opening a protected Word document requires users to enter a password before viewing any content.

The password feature does not include a recovery option, so losing the password will make it impossible to open the document. You will have to enter your chosen password twice to confirm it, and it will be required to open the document from that point forward. When a user opens the document they will be prompted to enter the password. Entering the correct password will enable reading and editing, unless the author has used additional protections.

Option 3: Restrict Editing

Restrict Editing in Microsoft Word
The Restrict Editing toolbar allows for authors to limit changes to formatting and text.

Selecting Restrict Editing provides authors with options to limit options within the document

Note: This option can also be accessed through the Review tab in the Protect toolbox (Protection for Mac users).

Note: Word for Mac 2011 users will need to use the path Word > Preferences > Personal Settings > Security > Password to Modify. Word for Mac 2016 and Office 365 users will use the path Review > Protect Document to open the Protection window and then select options to Protect document for.

The most useful option is the second, Editing Restrictions. Checking the box under that option provides the ability to limit user editing to be one of four choices:

  1. Tracked Changes makes changes possible, but with mandatory tracking.
  2. Comments let users place comments in the document, but not edit text.
  3. Filling in Forms (Forms for Mac users) allows users to fill in pre-formatted areas only.
  4. No Changes (Read Only for Mac users) prohibits all editing and comments.

In order for any of these changes to take effect the author must elect to Start Enforcement by clicking the “Yes, Start Enforcing Protection” button in the Restrict Editing toolbar in the Windows menu. Mac users will select OK. This will prompt you to create a password, which may be the same as a password to open the document or different.

Increased Security

Finally, these tools can be used in combination. For example, you can require a password to open the document, mark it as final, and restrict editing to read only—in case a reader decides to choose Edit Anyway even when the document was marked as final.

Using these protections will help you keep your file protected from unapproved readers and unintentional edits.