Electronically sharing documents is common in the business world. For example, companies often email product guides to customers, sales reports to employees, and press releases to the media. To create the documents, many businesses use Microsoft Word.

When you create or edit a file in Word, the app automatically adds some personal information to the document. Plus, the file might contain hidden data — data that is not visible when you view the document but can be seen by someone who knows how to retrieve it.

Before you electronically share Word documents with other people, it is a good idea to remove the personal and hidden data in them. One way to find and remove this data is to use Word’s Document Inspector. Another option is to convert your Word documents into PDF files.

The Types of Personal and Hidden Data Found in Word Documents

Word files can contain several types of personal and hidden data, including:

  • Personal information in the document’s properties. In a file’s properties, Word automatically records information, such as who created the document, who most recently saved it, and when the file was last printed. If you used specific features when working with the file, its properties might also contain other information. For example, if you used a custom template to create the file, the name of that template will be listed. To view this information, all someone needs to do is right-click the file and select “Properties”.
  • Changes and comments. Word’s Track Changes, Comment, and Ink Comment features are convenient if you collaborate with coworkers on documents. However, it is easy to forget about the changes and comments made if you select the “No Markup” option when reviewing the document. The comments and changes are still there, though. Anyone who knows how to use these features can make them visible again by selecting the “All Markup” option. The person will see not only the changes and comments but also who made them.
  • Hidden text. In a Word file, you can format text so that it is not visible in the document. You just need to highlight the text, open the “Font” window, and select the “Hidden” check box in the “Effects” section. Even though the text won’t be visible, it still exists. People who know how to use this feature can easily unhide it by selecting all the text in the document and clearing the “Hidden” check box.

There are also other types of personal and hidden data that might be in documents, such as custom XML data and headers (or footers) that contain text but have been disabled so they do not appear in the document.

Using Word’s Document Inspector

Word’s Document Inspector lets you find and remove personal and hidden data in a file. It is available in Word 2007 and later versions. It is simple to use. For instance, here is how to use it in Word 2016:

  1. Open the file you want to share.
  2. Select the “File” tab.
  3. Click the “Check for Issues” button.
  4. Choose the “Inspect Document” option.
  5. Leave all the check boxes selected. Even though you can select which types of personal and hidden data to look for, it is a good idea to check for all of them.
  6. Click the “Inspect” button.
  7. In the results, click the “Remove All” button for each type of personal or hidden data you want to remove from the document.
  8. Select “Close” to exit the Document Inspector.

Converting a Word Document into a PDF File

Another way to get rid of personal and hidden data in a Word document is to convert it into a PDF file. There are many tools that provide this functionality. Some are available for purchase (e.g., Adobe Acrobat), while others are free (e.g., CutePDF). Windows 10 even has a built-in PDF conversion tool called “Microsoft Print to PDF”.

Here is how to use Windows 10’s “Microsoft Print to PDF” tool to create a PDF version of a Word 2016 file:

  1. Open the file you want to convert in Word.
  2. Select the “File” tab.
  3. Choose the “Print” option.
  4. Change to printer to “Microsoft Print to PDF”.
  5. Click the “Print” button.
  6. Specify the desired filename and location.
  7. Click “Save”.

Peace of Mind

Using the Document Inspector or a PDF conversion tool does not take much time, yet it can give you peace of mind. You will know that your Word files are free from hidden data and the personal information that Word automatically adds to files. If you would like to learn about other measures you can take to protect your data privacy or the privacy of your customers’ data, contact us. We can assess your data systems and provide you with recommendations.