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How to Electronically Sign a Word Document: The Complete Guide

Most documents are digital in today's computer age, so there's no good reason to keep using ink-based signatures. In fact, businesses that use e-signatures reduce their document handling costs by 85%. And since over a million companies worldwide use Microsoft Office, there's no better time than now to show you how to sign a Word document electronically. But before we jump into the step-by-step procedure, let's cover some basics.

What is an electronic signature?

Just like a physical signature, an electronic signature serves as a stamp of authentication. It confirms that the signer agrees to the terms of a contract or any other legally binding document. That said, there are still doubts about the safety of digital signatures, which leads us to the next point.

What makes an electronic signature valid?

Making an electronic signature safe and valid isn't as easy as taking a photo of or scanning your physical signature. In all the countries where digital signatures are legally binding, their status depends on:

1. Who signed the document, or, in other words, proving the identity of the signer. Depending on the legislation, there are several verification methods, including email, SMS, or electronic IDs.

2. The content of the document and the intent of the parties. This means, for example, that any changes to a contract before it's signed are considered to be a new contract proposal. In the case of multiple signatories, the document isn't valid until all parties sign it.

3. The integrity of the document after signing, meaning it can't be changed after all the parties have put their signatures on it. In practical terms, this means your document becomes invalid even if you change a single comma.

That said, regulations surrounding electronic signatures aren't unified worldwide. So, to make sure your digital signature is admissible, take time to check your country's requirements.

Why you should use digital signatures

These days, it's not uncommon for a company to negotiate business with another company halfway around the world. If you still use a handwritten signature, the process of signing a contract in that scenario is impractical and time-consuming.

First, you have to print, sign, scan, and send the contract by post. Then, when the recipient finally gets the document, they need to repeat the same process. The entire situation can turn into an ordeal for both sides, not to mention the fact that it prolongs the process of closing the deal. On the other hand, using digital signatures makes it possible to go paperless and get the contract back, signed, in just a few minutes.

How to electronically sign a Word document

Now that we've got our bases covered, let's dive into the step-by-step process of electronically signing a Word document. For this guide, we used Office 365, but the procedure is the same for all the versions from 2007 onwards.

Step 1: Create a signature line

In your Word document, place your cursor where you want your signature field to be. If your document has multiple signatories, you will need to repeat the following process for each one.

Step 1 - How to electronically sign a Word document - create a signature line

Click on the Insert tab and go to Signature Line on the right. From there, you can either add a Microsoft Office signature line or add your signature service.

Insert the signature line.

Once you’ve clicked on Signature Line, you'll see a Signature Setup box. From there, you can fill out the signer's information and modify the default instruction message.

Signature setup box screenshot - instructions, adding an electronic signature to a Word document.

Step 2: Electronically sign your Word document

Now that your Word document contains signature lines for all parties, you can sign it yourself and send the document to your client. To create a digitally signed Word document, start by right-clicking the existing signature line.

Step Two - Electronically sign your Word document.

In the menu that appears, click on Sign. Once you've done that, you'll see a dialogue box where you can choose the type of signature you want to add. You can either type in your name or select an image of your physical signature to add to the document.

Adding the signature box to a Word document screenshot image.

By clicking on the Details button in the dialogue box, you can also add additional information about the signer. This includes your title, address, city, postal code, state, and country.

additional electronic signature information entry - screenshot

Now that you've signed the document, you'll need to send it to your client and they'll need to repeat the same process to put in their signature as well. Once you've collected all the signatures, your document is ready to go.

Example electronic signature box added to a Word document - Screenshot.

How to electronically sign a Word document with an invisible signature

While adding an invisible digital signature to your document sounds counterintuitive, it does have its uses. Let's say that you've created a detailed price list of your services in Word and you want to send it to your clients. How do you make sure they know the document is authentic and hasn't been tampered with? The answer is invisible digital signatures.

As opposed to a visible signature, this type of authentication only adds metadata to your document. While it's not possible to view signatures in the document itself, your clients will see a Signatures button on the bottom left of the page.

Invisible signature option when signing a Word document electronically - screenshot

To add an invisible digital signature to your Word document, go to File > Info > Protect Document > Add a Digital Signature. Once you've clicked on Add a Digital Signature, a Sign box will appear. 

Further instructions on options to add an invisible electronic signature option to a Word document - Screenshot

First, choose a Commitment Type from the dropdown. The available options are:

  • None
  • Created and approved this document
  • Approved this document
  • Created this document

Additionally, you can put in the purpose of signing the document and add extra signer information. 

invisible signature sign box and adding extra information about the signer - screenshot

Why electronically signing a Word document isn't a good idea

While it does offer the option, Word wasn't designed as a digital signature tool. Besides the lengthy process of adding signatures to a document, it also leaves room for human error. And if your clients don't have digital signature certificates, the procedure gets even more complicated.

Imagine you're sending a contract in Word to five different people and you need all of their signatures. In the best-case scenario of the signing process, everyone has a digital signature certificate, which would mean:

1. Sending the document to each person individually while paying attention to the signatures you've already collected. In the end, you'll need a document that contains all the signatures, not five separate documents with a single signature. So, you'll need to send the Microsoft Word document and wait for it to be signed five times before you have everything you need.

2. Running the risk of accidental changes. Since all the signatures in a Word document become invalid after a change, any minor mistake will mean repeating the process above over again. For example, if you collected three signatures and the fourth person accidentally deletes a space, you'll be back at square one.

In the worst-case scenario, one or more of your signatories don't have digital signature certificates. This can go one of two ways: either they Google it and issue a personal certificate or they print out the document, sign it, scan it, and send it back. Believe it or not, the second option would actually be the better one.

Self-issued signature certificates in Microsoft Office

If you don't have a digital signature certificate, you can always create a self-issued one for Word documents. And while such a certificate is free and doesn't take long to set up, it isn't as secure as getting one from a third-party certification authority (CA).

The entire premise for e-signature validity is being able to check the signer's identity. With self-issued signing certificates, this simply isn't possible. In addition, self-issued certificates are only trusted on the machine they were created on, meaning they will show up as invalid in most cases, making them unsafe electronic signatures.

As a matter of fact, once you create a self-issued certificate for Microsoft Office, the system warns you of potential issues. So, if you want your electronic signature to be valid, make sure you use trusted digital certificates.

How to make an electronic signature valid as a digital certificate when using a Word document - Screenshot

Alternatives to signing documents in Word

Just because you can electronically sign a Word document, it doesn't mean you should. What you should be doing instead is using a platform that's designed for e-signatures, such as Better Proposals. Besides giving you the option to collect as many signatures as you need in just a few minutes, Better Proposals also allows you to track your documents.

Once you send your proposal, contract, or sign-off sheet to your client, you get an instant notification once they've opened it. In addition to that, you see the exact time they spent on each page and whether they forwarded the document to someone else. And to make matters even better, our live chat integration allows you to interact with your clients in real time.

Choosing a dedicated e-signing platform means the margin for human error is almost non-existent. Collecting multiple signatures is as easy as setting up multiple signature fields and all of the signatures are verified by the platform you're using. This means that neither you nor your clients ever have to worry about expired signature certificates again.

Alternatives to using Word Documents for Electronic signature-taking. Proposal Software Image

Final thoughts

While Microsoft Word is by far the most popular text processing tool out there, it isn't the most suitable one for electronic signatures. The truth is, the process of collecting signatures from your clients using Word is time-consuming and leaves a lot of room for human error.

So, to make your document processing faster, more convenient, and safer, consider using a platform designed for e-signatures. As it so happens, Better Proposals offers a 14-day free trial. Sign up today and see how we can help you close more deals.

Patricija Šobak's profile image
Patricija Šobak puts her talent in spotting questionable grammar and shady syntax to good use by writing about various business-related topics. Besides advocating the use of the Oxford comma, she also likes coffee, dogs, and video games. People find her ability to name classic rock songs only from the intro both shocking and impressive.