Microsoft Word is a great tool for working on documents in a team setting. There are many features that support easy collaboration, including templates, change and revision tracking, comments, restricting and protecting documents, and comparing and merging documents.

Word’s collaboration tools allow you to accomplish things that even as little as 20 years ago would have required printing everything out, passing it off to a reviewer or reviewers, where they then would then mark up everything in ink, and then hand it back to you. You would then make your changes, print it out again, and hand it back for another round of reviews. This is both time consuming and wasteful.

With Word, however, you can simply make comments and corrections to the document all while easily tracking every change so everyone collaborating can see where it is going and how it is shaping up. No need to print or hand it off. You can simply save your work to a shared folder or email it saving you tons of valuable time!

The aim of this series is to introduce and familiarize you with the collaboration features in Microsoft Word 2013, though much of what we discuss should be available in prior versions, as well. This is going to be useful whether you’re simply a college student handing off your paper to someone else to proofread, or editing a large publication, which will pass through several revisions and reviewers.

Templates and Documents

When collaborating in a team setting, having everyone use consistent formatting is a must. You can easily accomplish this using templates.

For example, you can define all styles and formatting in a template, attach the template to the document, and distribute the template to everyone working on the document. A template is essentially Word’s guide for how your document and working environment should appear.

Every document in Word is based on a template. Anytime you create a new document in Word, a template is attached automatically, even when you create a new “Blank document.”

The new document based on the template contains all the styles and formatting you need. It may even include standard, boilerplate text, styles, headers, footers, special toolbars and any other common information needed for similar documents based on the template. You can also attach a template to an existing document, if you’ve created the template after starting work on the document.

NOTE: When you attach a template to an existing document, the page setup information, such as page orientation and margins, are not applied to the document. This is because page setup information is different for each section of your document, if you split your document into sections. Word doesn’t know which section to apply the page setup information.

For this reason, we recommend you plan ahead when working on a document in a collaborative setting and create a template for the document that you can apply to the new document before starting work on it.

The Normal Template and Custom Personal Templates

Word installs with a normal template and more templates are available on You can also create as many of your own custom personal templates as you like. If you don’t choose a built-in or custom template, Word automatically assigns the “normal.dotm” template to you document.

There are two extensions used for template files, DOTX and DOTM. DOTX is used for templates that don’t use macros, and DOTM is used for templates that do.

The Normal template is located in the “C:\Users\<username>\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Templates” folder, along with templates you can download from Refer to our How-To Geek School’s Guide to Word 2013 Formatting for more information.

NOTE: Throughout this series, you may be wondering why the images show the tabs in Word in upper and lower case (or title case) rather than all capitalized as it might be on your own computer. There is a trick to change the capitalization on the tabs that we explain in our article, How to Change the Capitalization of Office 2013’s Ribbon Bar.

Change the Location of the Personal Templates

Custom personal templates are stored in a different location from the Normal template and templates downloaded from Word stores personal templates in “C:\Users\<username>\Documents\Custom Office Templates” by default.

However, this location can be changed. To do so, click the “File” tab.

Click “Options” in the list of items on the left side of the “Info” screen.

On the “Word Options” dialog box, click “Advanced” in the list of items on the left.

In the “General” section, click “File Locations.”

On the “File Locations” dialog box, select “User Templates” in the list of file types and locations and click “Modify.”

On the “Modify Location” dialog box, navigate to the folder in which you want to store your personal templates, select it, and click “OK.”

The new path displays on the “File Locations” dialog box. Click “OK.”

Click “OK” to close the “Word Options” dialog box.

You also need to specify the default location for personal templates, so you’ll have access to your personal templates on the “New” screen when creating a new document. To do this, click the “File” tab and select “Options.” This time, on the “Options” dialog box, click “Save” in the list on the left.

In the “Save documents” section, enter the same path you specified on the “File Locations” dialog box earlier in the “Default personal templates location” edit box and click “OK.”

Create a New Custom, Personal Template

To create a new custom, personal template, simply create a new document and save it as a template file. To do this, click the “File” tab.

NOTE: You can also open an existing document containing the styles and formatting you want in your template and save it as a template file. You can delete the content of the document or leave some in as boilerplate text or add text to explain how to write that type of document.

Click the “New” option on the “Info” screen.

On the “New” screen, click “Blank document.”

NOTE: If you have an existing document that contains the styles and formatting you want in your template, click “Open” and select that document.

If you’re creating a template from a new document, set up the styles you want to use in your document, including fonts, paragraph formatting, margins, spacing, etc. Refer to the How-To Geek School’s Guide to Word 2013 Formatting for more information.

If you’re using an existing document, adjust the current styles and formatting to match what you want in your template. In either case, you can also set up any boilerplate text, headers, and footers that will be common to all documents created from this template, or explanatory text about how to write the document.

Click the “File” tab and click “Save As” on the “Info” screen.

On the “Save As” screen, click “Computer” in the list of locations on the left and click “Browse” on the right side.

On the “Save As” dialog box, either “Word Template (*.dotx)” or “Word Macro-Enabled Template (*.dotm)” from the “Save as type” drop-down list. Navigate to the same location you specified earlier as the default location for personal templates, so you can access it on the “New” screen when creating documents.

Enter a name for the template in the “File name” edit box and click “Save.”

If you’ve created your template from an existing document created in an earlier version of Word, you may see the following dialog box. If you don’t want to see this dialog box every time you save a document from an earlier version of Word, select the “Do not ask me again” check box, then click “OK.”

NOTE: If you prefer to keep your template compatible with earlier versions of Word, be sure to select the “Maintain compatibility with previous versions of Word” check box on the “Save As” dialog box.

In the above image, you may notice that the Normal.dotm template is located in the personal templates folder. When we changed the location of the personal templates, Word copied the Normal template there as well.

Protect a Template

Before attaching your template to a document, it’s a good idea to protect it first. The best way to accomplish this is to make the template file read-only. This is easily done in Windows (not Word).

To protect your template, open Windows Explorer and navigate to “C:\Users\<username>\Documents\Custom Office Templates” or to the location to which you switched for the personal templates. Right-click on the template file and select “Properties” from the popup menu.

On the “General” tab on the “Properties” dialog box, select the “Read-only” check box in the “Attributes” section and click “OK.”

Create a New Document from a Template

To create a new document using the template you just created, click the “File” tab and click “New” on the left side of the “Info” screen. The “New” screen displays the various Featured templates. Click “Personal” to view the custom templates you have created and saved.

Custom templates you have created and saved to the folder you specified earlier as the default folder for personal templates are displayed on the “New” screen. Click on the template you want to attach to your new document.

A new document opens with the selected template attached. If the template contains any boilerplate text, header, or footer, they would be inserted into the new, empty document.

If the template contains any boilerplate text, header, footer, or explanatory text, that content would be inserted into the empty, new document, as illustrated below.

Now you can craft your document as you would any Word document (be sure and save your work). The template saves you time with regard to formatting and styles, but it’s still just a new document until you save it.

Editing the document doesn’t change the template attached to it. We’ll discuss editing templates later in this series.

Determine and Change Which Template is Attached to a Document

If you’ve forgotten which template you attached to a document, you can easily find that out within Word and change the template attached to the document. However, you need the “Developer” tab, which is not available by default.

To activate the “Developer” tab, right-click on the ribbon and select “Customize the Ribbon” from the popup menu.

The “Customize Ribbon” screen displays on the “Word Options” dialog box. On the right side of the dialog box, make sure “Main Tabs” is selected from the drop-down list under “Customize the Ribbon.” In the “Main Tabs” list, select the check box next to “Developer” and click “OK.”

Click the “Developer” tab on the Ribbon and click “Document Template” in the “Templates” section.

The “Document template” edit box at the top of the “Templates” tab displays the template that is currently attached to your document. To change which template is attached to the document, click “Attach.”

On the “Attach Template” dialog box, the default personal template location is automatically selected. Select the template you want to attach and click “Open.”

The path to the selected template is entered into the “Document template” edit box. To change the styles in the document to reflect the styles in the template, click the “Automatically update document styles” check box and click “OK.”

The styles and any custom toolbars and macros (as long as you saved the template with the “.dotm” extension) stored in the template are now available to your document.

NOTE: Attaching a template to a document does not add any text or graphics from the template into your document. This only happens when you create a new document from a template.

You can also use this procedure to unattach a template from a document. To do this, simply attach the Normal template to the document instead.

Edit a Template

Editing a template is similar to editing a regular document; the only difference is that the file is saved with a DOTX or DOTM extension (instead of DOCX).

NOTE: Before editing a template, be sure the “Read-only” attribute is off for the template file, as discussed in the “Protect a Template” section earlier.

To edit a template, click the “File” tab and click “Open” on the “Info” screen.

Click “Computer” on the “Open” screen and click “Browse” on the right side.

On the “Open” dialog box, navigate to the folder containing your template, select the file, and click “Open.”

Notice the name of the document in the title bar is the template file with the DOTX or DOTM extension.

Make changes to the styles and any toolbars, macros, and boilerplate text you may have in your template and save the file. Make sure you keep the DOTX extension, or DOTM extension, if your template includes macros.

Remove Personal Information Before Distributing a Document

Now that you’ve created your template and used it to create your document, there is something to consider before distributing it to other reviewers. Word may add some hidden data or personal information to the document itself or to the document properties, or metadata, and you may want to remove this possibly sensitive information before distribution. To do this, use the “Document Inspector.”

NOTE: If you want to preserve the personal information in the document before removing it, save a backup copy of the document. It’s not always possible to restore data that the “Document Inspector” removes.

To use the “Document Inspector,” click the “File” tab.

On the “Info” screen, click “Check for Issues” and select “Inspect Document” from the drop-down menu.

A warning dialog box displays telling you that some data might be removed that can’t be restored later. Click “Yes” to save your file before using the “Document Inspector.”

On the “Document Inspector” dialog box, select the “Document Properties and Personal Information” check box to remove any possibly sensitive information from the document and any other type of information you want to remove. We will discuss removing comments, revisions, versions, and annotations in Lesson 3, after showing you how to use revisions (or Track Changes) and comments. Click “Inspect” once you have made your selections.

Any items you selected that were found in the document are marked with a red exclamation point. Items not found are marked with a blue circle with a white check mark. To remove the personal information, click “Remove All” in that section of the dialog box.

Once the items are removed, the red exclamation point is replaced with the blue circle with a check mark. Click “Close” to close the dialog box once you have removed everything you want to remove.

If you want to inspect the document again before closing the dialog box, click “Reinspect.”

For more information about the individual items on the Document Inspector dialog box, see Information the Document Inspector finds and removes.

Coming up Next …

And so ends Lesson 1. We hope you enjoyed it and learned a thing or two. Knowing how to create and manage templates will allow you to maintain consistent formatting when collaborating on documents. Planning ahead and creating your templates before starting on a document is the best way to simplify formatting and ensure consistency.

Here’s what you can look forward to for the remainder of this series.

Lesson 2: Keep Track of Changes Made to a Document

Use the “Track Changes” feature in Word to keep track all of all changes to the document along with the names of the reviewers and the time each change was made. This helps when collaborating with others on a single document.

If you are in charge of a document and have other people reviewing it, you can lock on the “Track Changes” feature so they are forced to track their changes. We will talk about using the “Track Changes” feature in Lesson 2.

Lesson 3: Use Comments to Indicate Changes to a Document

You can track changes you make, but what if you want to ask a question or explain a change you made? Use comments in a document to communicate with other reviewers. We will talk about everything you can do with comments in Lesson 3!

Lesson 4: Restrict and Protect a Document

When collaborating on a document, it’s useful to have other people suggest changes to both text and formatting. However, you may want to limit what they can change. Use the Restrict Formatting and Restrict Editing features to do this. You can also password protect your document to only allow certain people access. You will learn more about these features in Lesson 4!

Lesson 5: Versioning, Comparing, and Combining Documents

And, finally, in Lesson 5, we will talk about keeping track of versions of a Word document, comparing and combining documents, and sharing documents using Microsoft OneDrive!

Profile Photo for Lori Kaufman Lori Kaufman
Lori Kaufman is a technology expert with 25 years of experience. She's been a senior technical writer, worked as a programmer, and has even run her own multi-location business.
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