How to Lock Their Sticky Fingers Out of Your Formatting

Do you ever collaborate on documents?

Do you ever find that when you do, someone with whom you collaborate does not know how to use Styles in Word?

It’s okay. I know the answer to this one. You totally do. It might even drive you up a wall when someone you’re collaborating with will force formatting instead of using Styles. If you’re using them extensively, this messes up everything from the seamless look of the document to logical text flow.

Did you know you can lock them out of that? Your collaborator, the brilliant writer, can then write the brilliant text without messing up the rest of the structure of the document. It’s awesome.

How to restrict formatting and styles in MS Word

Let’s take this somewhat out of date document – a guide to some new features in Office 2013. It makes extensive use of styles for both formatting and text flow. If you check to the right, you’ll see the navigation pane which shows the organization of the document in headings and subheadings. Text flow is also controlled by forcing a page break before certain types of headings. (See The Top Three Reasons to Use Styles When Formatting a Document for a little blurb on how to do that)

If I wanted to hand this document to someone else so they could contribute some material, I still would not want them messing with how the styles work in it. It drives the layout and look of the document.

So, I restrict formatting.

  1. Click on the Review tab and go to the Protect group.
  2. Click on Restrict Editing.

  3. The Restrict Editing task pane will appear on the right of your screen.

  4. Under Formatting Restrictions, click on Settings.

  5. From here you can restrict formatting changes to the styles you want the author to use. I strongly recommend using Recommended Minimum. Once you’ve made your choices, click OK.
  6. You will get a warning telling you that if styles are used for which you’ve blocked changes, they’ll be removed. Make sure you choose all the styles you use in your document! It will only activate, however, after you’ve clicked Yes.
  7. If you want to add editing restrictions such as Tracked Changes, you can choose that under Editing Restrictions.

  8. When you’re ready, just click on Yes, Start Enforcing Protection. You will get a notification to enter a password. DO NOT FORGET THIS PASSWORD. There is no way to recover it, and you might lock yourself out of something you don’t want to if you forget this password. When you have set a password that you will remember, click OK.

Now that you have your document protected, I want you to notice something on the Home ribbon:

See the Font and Paragraph groups? They’re ghosted – locked down. The only formatting that the writer can now add is in styles. No more Purple Comic Sans for that author! Yes, there is a style that’s equivalent to Bold. It’s called Strong. However, the use of styles versus font-based formatting brings up a point. If you’re going to do this, you need to educate your writers on what you did, why you did it, and then show them how they can accomplish what they want within Styles.

I mean, you’re working on documents, so like… Communication is a thing, right?

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