Redacting content in Microsoft Word refers to permanently removing or obscuring sensitive information from a document before sharing it. This ensures confidential data is not accidentally disclosed to unauthorized parties.
There are several methods to redact content in Word. The best practices depend on your specific needs and document sensitivity level.
Why Redact Word Documents
Here are some common reasons for redacting Microsoft Word files:
- Removing private personal information (names, addresses, SSNs, etc.) from legal contracts, case files, or other sensitive documents before sharing them outside your organization
- Deleting confidential company data (financials, trade secrets, etc.) from reports and presentations before sending them to external partners
- Protecting classified information in government documents prior to public release
- Sanitizing Word files received from external sources before internal sharing within your company
Redaction Risks to Avoid
Improper redaction of Word documents can lead to accidental information disclosure. Here are some common risks to avoid:
- Using the highlight color tool to black out text – the underlying text remains in the document and is accessible
- Simply deleting text – the original text can still be recovered
- Hiding text by changing font color to white – the hidden text remains in the file metadata
- Failing to remove document metadata and hidden data
- Not redacting all instances of sensitive information
- Using inconsistent redaction techniques within a file
Best Practices for Redacting Word Documents
Follow these methods to securely redact Microsoft Word files:
1. Work With a Copy of the Document
Always redact a copy of the original file, not the original itself. This ensures you retain an intact version if needed.
2. Use the Word Redaction Tool
The built-in redaction tool in Word permanently removes visible text and scrubs metadata. However, this tool is not available in all versions.
3. Replace Text with Symbols
Manually replace text with black boxes [▪▪▪], letters (XXX), or symbols (#). This hides visible data but metadata still remains.
4. Save as an Image
Print the Word file to PDF, then save as an image (JPEG, PNG, GIF, etc.). This is the most secure option but text is then uneditable.
5. Use Third-Party Redaction Software
Specialized tools like Redax and Power PDF offer advanced redaction capabilities to permanently delete text and metadata.
How to Use the Word Redaction Tool
Here are the steps to use the built-in redaction tool in recent Word versions:
- Open the Word document and select the Review tab
- Click Redact and choose the Mark for Redaction option
- Highlight the text you want to redact
- Click the Apply button to make the redactions
- Save the redacted Word document
The removed text is replaced with black boxes. This technique permanently deletes the underlying text and associated metadata.
Redacting Images in Word
To redact images in Word:
- Right click the image and select Format Picture
- Choose the Color tab and pick the black color fill to block out the entire image
- You can also crop or place black shapes over the sensitive regions within an image
Repeat this for all images needing redaction.
How to Remove Metadata in Word
To eliminate hidden document metadata before sharing redacted Word files:
- Click the File tab > Info > Check for Issues > Inspect Document
- Check all boxes to scan for metadata and personal information
- Click Remove All next to any identified issues
- Save the changes
- Go to Word > Preferences > Security
- Check the box for Remove personal information from this file on save
- Save the document
Storing Redacted Documents Securely
Always store redacted Word documents securely after redaction:
- Save them in encrypted folders
- Use password protection
- Enable restricted permissions
- Add digital rights management (DRM)
Best Practices Summary
In summary, proper redaction in Word requires permanently removing visible content and hidden metadata using secure methods. Avoid common errors like improper text deletion or highlight tools. Utilize built-in Word redaction, save files as images, or use third-party software instead.
Implement stringent document storage protocols for redacted files. Finally, educate your team on organization-wide redaction processes to ensure consistency and mitigate risks.