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  • Writer's pictureAnnette Wierstra

Document Management Part 3: Controlled Access

Updated: Feb 9

As part of a blog series, we are discussing practical ways you can organize and control your organization's documents (see Introduction). This week we are completing our series discussing how to balance protecting your document content while providing ready access to those who need it.

While it is good to give your employees "view" access to documents, you don’t want to give everyone "write" access. You need to make sure that critical procedure and policy documents have gone through an appropriate review process. Gone are the days when we could just curse a document and hope that kept spurious editors away (Yes. Really. Read more here: Protect Your Library the Medieval Way with-Horrifying Book Curses).

Who Needs Access?

Many of the cloud and project management tools will allow your organization to limit who can edit, view, and comment on your documents. It may be useful to allow more access during the document development and review stage and then reduce it to "view" only once it is approved.

If you are meeting regulated or certification standards, the pool of who can make changes to the document should be quite small. There may be less critical documents or reports that can have more access to make changes and updates freely. There is a balance for document control and accessibility that needs to be determined for different types of documents.

Official Document Copy

It’s not just editing that can complicate your document management. If someone moves or deletes a document, it can break cross-references or links from other sources. Thankfully in Google Docs the URL remains the same no matter if you move the file which helps maintain stability. This is not always the case in other cloud or document storage systems.

It doesn’t help if people make copies and or download the document to their computers or devices. As soon as there are multiple copies, it can be difficult to know which is the most recent.

The first step to controlling this is through education. Let your team know where the official files are located and that any copies outside of this official location are not necessarily the latest version. But you may be able to control this by:

  • Educating people to access the document from the official location and to avoid moving or copying it

  • Preventing people from moving or saving new digital copies by giving them "view-only" access

  • Add text that says “only valid on <insert current date field>” to your document footers

Recommending Changes

However you control the access, you want to have a method where people can recommend changes or updates. It can be a huge project to keep documents current, so empowering employees to use their expertise and knowledge to give corrections or updates will make that job easier.

Provide an email for feedback or allow document comments. Engage people who are interested in updating documents in the regular review process. By giving an official way to update the documents, you can reduce your team’s need to make their own unapproved changes to the documents and collect their expertise.

Improving Your Document Management

If you feel like your document management system is not working for your organization, it can be frustrating. It is a common challenge and there is not a single solution that will work for you. But by examining the functionality of the services and software you are already using, there are likely small things you can do now that will help you improve your document management. It might be overwhelming, but these small changes add up over time.

Got a question or an idea that has worked well for you? Let us know! We love to hear about your successes and challenges. Want to read the whole Document Management series? Find all the articles here:


Annette has been working as a writer for nearly 25 years and an instructor for 12 years. She was inspired to write this series during some technical writing and plain language workshops. Participants kept coming up with great document management questions that led Annette to collate and organize these ideas into one spot. Special thanks to the City of Edmonton IT writing workshop participants who provided some excellent new technical ideas and expertise during workshop discussions.

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