As we step ever nearer to the paperless office, it makes sense to reduce any unnecessary waste of paper and make use of the latest Office Word 2007 tools which help transfer paper systems from desk to digital documents on the desktop.

Obviously there are still occasions when it is essential that we keep track of the lifecycle of a document. It might be vital to have a signed record of who has created the original, who has amended the text and who has approved the final version. But how can this happen if we want to avoid printing out numerous copies which may be distributed and then have to be retrieved from the four corners of the earth in order that each signed copy is archived for future generations? The answer could be Digital Signatures.

The ability to capture Digital Signatures by using the Signature Line command in Office 2007 documents makes it possible for organisations to adopt paperless signing processes in situations where keeping track of signing is vital. Digital Signatures can provide a record of exactly what was signed and allow the signature to be verified in the future.

When using Word 2007 and Excel 2007 it is possible to insert a Signature Line into a document. Simply set the cursor at the point in your document you would like to add the signature. Then, on the Insert tab, in the Text group, point to the arrow next to Signature Line and click Microsoft Office Signature Line.

In the Signature Setup dialog box you can type information about the person who will be signing on the Signature Line. This information is displayed directly beneath the Signature Line in the document.

When an electronic copy of the document is sent to the intended signer, this person sees the Signature Line and a notification that their signature is required. The signer can click the Signature Line to digitally sign the document by either typing a signature, selecting a digital image of their signature, or writing a signature. When the signer adds a visible representation of his or her signature to the document, a Digital Signature is added simultaneously to authenticate the identity of the signer. After a document is digitally signed, it will become read-only to prevent modifications to its content.

You can also add information in the Instructions to signer box. The instructions will then be displayed in the Signature dialog box. There is also the option to allow the signer to add comments along with their signature and the flexibility to the show the date when the signature is added. It's easy to add additional Signature Lines, too.

When you sign the Signature Line in a Word 2007 document, you add both a visible representation of your signature and a Digital Signature. If you do not need to insert visible Signature Lines into a document, but you still want to provide assurance as to the authenticity, integrity and origin of a document, you can add an invisible Digital Signature to the document.

It's easy to remove a Digital Signature from a Microsoft Office document that has been digitally signed by clicking on Prepare in the Office Button and selecting View Signatures then Remove Signatures.

Obviously when you receive a document that has been signed by someone you know you are more likely to trust the contents than from someone you don't know.

The Office 2007 Word Digital Signatures feature provides a way to ensure that the contents of your documents have not been changed by any unauthorised author. If the document has been altered, Word 2007 warns you that the signature ID is invalid.

The Digital Signature function also allows office users to create their own Signature Certificate or to acquire a Certificate form a trusted third party.

If you plan to exchange digitally signed documents with other people, and you want the recipients of your documents to be able to verify the authenticity of your Digital Signature, it is a good idea to obtain a Digital Certificate from a reputable third-party Certificate authority. A Digital Certificate is necessary for a Digital Signature because it provides the public key that can be used to validate the private key that is associated with a Digital Signature. Digital Certificates make it possible for Digital Signatures to be used as a way to authenticate digital information.

If you select the option Get a digital ID from a Microsoft partner in the Get a Digital ID dialog box, you are redirected to the Microsoft Office Marketplace, where you can purchase a Digital Certificate from one of the third-party Certificate Authorities (CAs) with an Office Marketplace listing.

So, if you want to reduce your carbon footprint, take a step closer to the digital age and find out more about using Digital Signatures in Word 2007.