How to Restrict Others’ Formatting in Microsoft Word Documents

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A recent Lawyerist commenter lamented that whenever he sends a document out for comments or suggested changes, some people send it back with unwanted formatting changes that he has to undo, a time-consuming task in long documents with intricate formatting. Fortunately, you can give reviewers free rein with Microsoft Word text but restrict others’ formatting.

On the Review tab, click the Restrict Editing button. The Restrict Editing pane will pop up on the right-hand side of your document. The sections we’re going to work with are 1. Formatting instructions and 3. Start enforcement.

Restrict others' formatting in the Editing Pane

Check the box next to Limit formatting to a selection of styles and click the Settings link beneath it. You’ll get this dialog box to select which styles your reviewers may change.

Restrict others' formatting in the Formatting Restrictions dialog box

If (like our commenter) you want to stop others from adjusting headings, etc., I recommend you choose the multiple Body Text and Normal styles. Also, it’s probably a good idea to check the boxes next to Block Theme or Scheme switching and Block Quick Style Set switching. Leave the check box next to Allow AutoFormat to override formatting restrictions unchecked.

Once you click OK, you’ll get this prompt:

Restrict others' formatting in some styles but don't remove other styles

Click No here, because clicking Yes will remove every restricted style from the document. That’s helpful when you’re limiting the styles contained in a document, but that’s not what we’re doing here.

Once you click No, your reviewers can only change formatting in text formatted with the styles you selected. To double-check your work, click on the small launcher arrow in the lower right-hand corner of the Styles area on the Home tab, then click the Manage Styles button on the bottom of the Styles pane that pops up. Restricted styles have a lock icon next to them:

The Manage Styles dialog shows how you restrict others' formatting

Once you’re ready to lock your styles down, click the Yes, Start Enforcing Protection button at the bottom of the Restrict Editing pane. You’ll be prompted for a password:

Restrict others' formatting with a password

As noted in my last article on restricting text editing, be sure this is a password you’ll remember. If the password’s lost, you’ll have no way to unlock these restrictions.

Your reviewers will see this:

Restrict others' formatting

This, by the way, is but one of many features based on Styles. Facility with Styles is the highest value Microsoft Word skill you can acquire.

What other “editing by committee” situations do you need help with? Let us know in the comments below.

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  • Paul Spitz

    Very helpful, except that I use a Mac, so all the commands are different. It really pisses me off that in 2016, software developers can’t have identical commands across all platforms.

  • Gerri Martin

    Thank you very much for your posts. I always find them very interesting