Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Word versions: 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003. If you are using a later version (Word 2007 or later), this tip may not work for you. For a version of this tip written specifically for later versions of Word, click here: Read-Only Documents without a Password.

Read-Only Documents without a Password

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated November 27, 2015)

One common way to protect documents is to set the sharing options available when you save the document. For instance, you can choose Tools | Options | Save, and then fill in the passwords at the bottom of the dialog box. One password is used to open the document, and the other is used if you want to prohibit changes to the document.

The drawback to these password options is that the user is presented with a dialog box that asks for a password when they try to open the document. The difference between the two passwords is that if you require a password to open, then the user won't even be able to open the document without it. If you require a password to modify the document, then the user can open a read-only copy of the document, even if they don't have the password.

What if you never intend to provide the password to users? In that case, asking for a password seems like a waste of time. Instead, it would be nice to have the users be able to skip the dialog box and just open a read-only copy of the document. In this case, there are three ways you can implement a solution.

The first (and simplest) solution is to make the document file read-only. Within Windows (not Word), right-click on the document and choose the Properties option. In the resulting dialog box you can modify the read-only attribute for the file. If you mark it as read-only, then nobody can change the document; it will automatically be read-only when opened in Word. Of course, there is nothing stopping someone else from following these same steps and clearing the read-only attribute so that they can change the original file.

The second approach is to take advantage of your network settings, if you have a network. Just talk to your system administrator, and have her create a folder to which you can write, but from which others can only read. That way they can't change the original document, but you can.

The third approach is to protect the document differently. When you choose Protect Document from the Tools menu, Word displays the Protect Document dialog box or the Protect Document task pane, depending on your version of Word. This type of protection is often used when creating forms, but it has applicability to general documents, as well.

In the Protect Document dialog box, make sure the Forms option is selected, and then provide a password. When the document is loaded at a later point, the user is not prompted for a password. The user also won't be able to do other things, such as to select text and copy it. The user will, however, be able to view and print the document, as desired.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (1654) applies to Microsoft Word 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003. You can find a version of this tip for the ribbon interface of Word (Word 2007 and later) here: Read-Only Documents without a Password.

Author Bio

Allen Wyatt

With more than 50 non-fiction books and numerous magazine articles to his credit, Allen Wyatt is an internationally recognized author. He  is president of Sharon Parq Associates, a computer and publishing services company. ...

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