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Microsoft Word template and formatting consistency (Part 1)

Updated: Mar 11

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If you work with branding and need to make sure your Microsoft Word documents are formatted consistently, using text styles within Microsoft Word templates is a very useful tool.

However, if you're already using them, you probably know this isn't enough. Do your colleagues format their documents how you want? Do you need to spend hours proofreading and correcting these files?

Microsoft Word has a tool that is designed to protect your text formatting guidelines, so let's introduce you to Restrict Editing (Windows only).

Video showing how to turn on Restrict Editing in Microsoft Word.

Restrict Editing

Microsoft Word's Restrict Editing tool can restrict editing to in two ways:

  • allow people to format text using only the text styles set in the document.

  • restrict editing, based on particular parts of a document (such as a section or form entry fields) or based on who the user is.

We're going to focus on the first option - limiting text formatting to using text styles.

Go to the Review tab and press the Restrict Editing button. You’ll see a pane appear on the right (shown below).

The Restrict Editing pane in Microsoft Word (Windows)

Ticking “Limit formatting to a selection of styles” means you can restrict users to only use the styles you’ve created. They can’t use other fonts, resize words or make other manual changes – they must format text using your styles. They cannot change existing or create new text styles, unless they switch off Restrict Editing.

Press “Yes, Start enforcement” and set a password, if you want to; then you’re done!

Now look at the Home tab:

The Home tab after Restrict Editing has been turned on.

Notice almost all the manual formatting buttons are deactivated. It isn't possible to create new styles, unless a user can switch off the protection (which is why a password is advisable).

Restrict Editing also controls how content is pasted into your files.

Ordinarily, Microsoft Word’s Paste button will transfer formatting from another document into yours. Not only will this disrupt text consistency, in the long-term, it can lead to a file becoming corrupted.

Restrict Editing will stop text formatting transfers from happening (but it is not 100% secure - read on to find out more).

If you save files in OneDrive or SharePoint and edit them in a browser, testing has shown that files that use Restrict Editing will not open in a browser; they will ask to be opened in the desktop app instead. Once opened in the desktop app, users will see the various commands switched off.

Great! This is the answer to my prayers!

Well, yes but... there are certain things to be aware of!

Restrict Editing doesn't just switch off most commands in the Home tab.

Have a look at the Layout, Table Design and Table Layout tabs shown below (you'll see the last two when you click inside a table).

The Layout tab, after Restrict Editing has been turned on.
The Layout tab, after Restrict Editing has been turned on.

The Table Design tab, after Restrict Editing has been turned on.
The Table Design tab, after Restrict Editing has been turned on.

The Table Layout tab, after Restrict Editing has been turned on.
The Table Layout tab, after Restrict Editing has been turned on.

In the Layout tab, Restrict Editing switches off the Breaks and Columns buttons. If you need to add a page break, you'll need to use the Insert Blank Page button (in the Insert tab) or use the Ctrl + Enter keyboard shortcut. If you need to insert a section break or, for example, switch a section from a one to a two-column layout, you may need to use other methods, like a keyboard shortcut or a macro.

For tables, the ability to switch off any of the built-in styles and restrict users to your custom table styles (or certain built-in ones), may be very useful.

However, you cannot manually format any borders or change the fill colour of a cell, via the buttons in the Table Design tab. You can't change a row height, column width or vertical text alignment via the buttons in the Table Layout tab either.

This might be an issue for those who, for example, create financial reports and need to create sub-header or sub-total rows, or need to use colour to fill in table cells.

Users will have to change some of the way they format text

When Restrict Editing is applied, all text formatting has to be applied via the Quick Styles Pane or larger Styles Pane.

If you want to allow formatting such as superscript, subscript or highlighting, these will have to be saved as character styles before Restrict Editing is applied.

Do you want to allow multiple formatting, e.g. bold and italic, to text? This combination will also have to be saved as a specific character style. The user cannot use the Home tab, the shortcut menus or keyboard shortcuts.

Restrict Editing does not prevent all unwanted changes to your document

Another thing to be aware of is pasting content when Restrict Editing is on is not foolproof.

In the document you're copying from, check if it has sections and its own headers and footers.

If you copy any content from two or more sections in such a file, Microsoft Word will replace your headers and footers with the ones in the file you're copying from.

If the file you're copying from uses a different page size and multiple sections, check that your document has not also changes its page size.

Finally, if the order and visibility of text styles needs to be maintained, Restrict Editing doesn't stop this from being changed either.

Restrict Editing is good for those who...
  • have a small list of (paragraph) text styles.

  • use the same page layout all the way through (i.e. no changes in headers and footers, use the same number of text columns throughout).

  • do not need to manually format tables.

  • are not concerned with or do not copy from files that have multiple sections or different page sizes.

  • can adapt to new ways of formatting text.

  • use SharePoint or OneDrive and allow files to be edited in the desktop app and browser.

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