Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Word versions: 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, Word in Microsoft 365, and 2021. If you are using an earlier version (Word 2003 or earlier), this tip may not work for you. For a version of this tip written specifically for earlier versions of Word, click here: Working on Shared Templates.

Working on Shared Templates

Written by Allen Wyatt (last updated December 17, 2022)
This tip applies to Word 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, Word in Microsoft 365, and 2021


Word establishes a very close relationship between documents and templates. When a document is created, it is always based on a template. In addition, you can attach templates to specific documents to change which styles and other features are available to that document.

When you have a document open in Word, the template attached to that document is also opened by the program. This means that Word has immediate access to the information in the template, but it can also present problems in a networked environment. It is not unusual for templates needed by many workers to be stored on a network drive. That way, users can access the template over the network.

Of course, since Word opens the template when a document that uses that template is opened, that means that the same template can be open—automatically—by many different users at the same time. This does not present a real problem for Word, but it can present a problem if you are responsible for managing updates to the company's templates. You can't open and change a template if it is in use by someone else who has an open document that uses that template. What to do?

This is a common problem, and boils down to a management issue more than a technological issue. There is no way for an administrator (the person responsible for the templates) to force a "disconnect" between a document and a template. This means that there are only two ways you can possibly work on the templates you need to change.

First, you can tell everyone to close their documents and get out of Word while you do the update. Depending on the size of your department, this may be possible. If you have hundreds of users, however, this approach becomes less feasible—particularly if someone may be away from his or her desk with a document still open on their system. (You would need to walk to their desk and manually close the document yourself.)

The second possible solution is to keep duplicates of the templates. These duplicates could be on a local drive or on a network drive to which only you have access. The duplicates should have different names than the shared templates. For instance, if you have a shared template called BusLtr.dotm, you might have the duplicate be MasterBusLtr.dotm.

The duplicate templates mean that you can load and modify the duplicates, and then copy the modified template over the top of the shared template at a time when it is not in use. For instance, you might come in early in the morning, before the computers are in use, and copy the duplicate template to the shared folder (using the shared templates name) so that the template is available for use by others as they start arriving at the office.

There is another management guideline that should go hand-in-hand with the above-described procedures: You should make sure that your shared templates—the ones on the network drive—are located in a read-only folder. In this way your network users cannot make changes, inadvertent or purposeful, to the templates. As administrator of the templates, you should have the ability to write to the folder, but others should not. That way, as you make updates in the copies of the templates you can move them to the shared, read-only folder as already described.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (8216) applies to Microsoft Word 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, Word in Microsoft 365, and 2021. You can find a version of this tip for the older menu interface of Word here: Working on Shared Templates.

Author Bio

Allen Wyatt

With more than 50 non-fiction books and numerous magazine articles to his credit, Allen Wyatt is an internationally recognized author. He is president of Sharon Parq Associates, a computer and publishing services company. ...

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