How to password-protect a Word document on a Mac

Sometimes you have a word processing document and you want to keep its contents private. Maybe it’s your Christmas gift list, maybe it’s a list of invitees to a surprise party, maybe it’s a diary or a screenplay or a book.

If your document was created in Microsoft Word there’s a way to password-protect it. No one will be able to open the document without the password.

You can also password-protect Excel documents.

(You can actually set up two passwords: one for opening the document, and another for changing it. You can probably imagine a use for this.)

The way you put a password on a Microsoft Word document is through a button on the toolbar. In particular, you do it by going to the Review toolbar and clicking on the Protect button.

Microsoft Word document showing where to click to set a password for a document
Click on the Review toolbar, then the Protect button, then the Protect Document button

Note: this used to be in the Save As… box, behind the Options… button. If you’re using an older version of Microsoft Word, look to the Save As… box.

Now you get to set the passwords. You can use the same one for opening as for modifying, or you can use different ones for each. It is up to you. Fill in the boxes and click OK. (You don’t have to click “Protect Document…”– that’s something different, but worth looking at someday.)

Password Protect dialog box in Microsoft Word 2016
Setting a password to open and/or modify the Word document

When you type the passwords you’ll only see dots. So, when you click OK, Word asks you to type the password(s) to make sure you didn’t make a typo. Provide the passwords and you are all set.

Word 2016 password confirmation dialog box.
Word 2016 making doubly-sure that you know the password you just entered

From now on, that document can’t be opened or modified without a password. Close the document and see for yourself. When you double-click the document you’ll be asked for a password, and if you don’t know it the document won’t open.

Word 2016 "Enter the password to open this file" dialog box
Word 2016 requesting the password before opening the protected document

And that’s it. Now your Word document is password-protected. Nothing to it, when you know how.

Note: if you think you can get around the lock by using the Mac’s “QuickLook” select-and-spacebar feature, think again. Apple’s got it covered. Here’s what happens if you try to QuickLook a locked Word document:

QuickLook on a locked Word 2016 document.
Locked Word document, in QuickLook mode

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