7 ways to effectively use a SharePoint document library

1.) Versioning - otherwise its just a network folder!

The firs thing I do with a new document library if it isn't enabled already - turn on versioning! It's not really document management without versioning so get in there and enable it first thing.

Don’t know how? Follow the steps below

Select the 'Document Library Settings' option from the 'Settings' menu. If you don’t see the settings menu you don’t have permission and will need to ask someone who does politely.

Then select 'Versioning settings' from the General settings column.

Here you have two choices and I suggest you select the second, creating both major and minor versions. Gives you a lot more flexibility and options around 'publishing'. More on that later

Hit 'OK' and your done. Now each time you check a document in it will keep a version on the server and allow you track a full history of your document.


Small sidenote, if you have permissions setup correctly (i.e. not everybody has admin/contribute rights to every document library), ticking the 'Only users who can edit items' for drafts is a good idea of hiding documents from those who shouldn't be reading them until their published form.

This is in a project life-cycle where either the test or dev team needs to review a base lined document but work needs to continue without creating two separate copies. Set this option and you control who see's what!

2.) Force check out - crucial to have with versioning

Small point but important - no point having versioning unless you force all documents to be checked out before edited!

Always set this to yes unless you have a specific reason not to. If you need to do a bulk move or bulk edit, temporarily remove the force checkout, do what's required, and set it back. Removes the hassle and keeps the functionality - everybody wins!

Found under document settings -> versioning settings (same as above)

3.) Use content types - managed metadata and consistency across documentation

SharePoint content types are an incredibly useful way of organizing content and in particular, reusing structure that’s been set up elsewhere. I wont go into detail but have a read up on it here.

I normally setup at least one content type per document library, usually a applicable template or work product such as SRS (Software requirement specification) and a generic document type above that sits above that.

The general content type has standard project related columns such as:

  • Project Phase ('choice' column of relevant phases)
  • Build ('choice' column with set list of builds
  • Category ('choice' column of categories such as requirements, technical design, testing

You can use whatever is relevant and the above is just an example of criteria that is relevant to all documents within the library. Then as a child content type of the general, I create a few columns specific to a SRS.

4.) Use Office 2007/2010's integration - it’s a great way of converting the sceptics

Continuing on from good use of content types above, using Office 2007/2010's SharePoint integration to save metadata and check in and out documents converts most sceptics.

Common criticism of SharePoint is that you have to check in and check out each time, and you have to edit properties to save metadata blah blah..

With the integration offered in 2007/2010 (and to an extent but not as seamless, 2003) such sceptics have no excuse!

Document metadata shown by default when document is opened and you are required to update the metadata on check in.

Built in support for versioning including comments (which can be used effectively in the document library view)

New in 2010, the Backstage view has built-in drop down menus, presence indicators from Office Communicator integration and a much smoother (graphically) integration.

5.) Workflows - even the default workflows are very useful

SharePoint comes built-in with some useful workflows, such as approval and collect feedback. I tend to use these quickly to request and track feedback on a document.

Access them and any custom workflows you may have built for the workflow/content type, via the backstage in 2010.

6.) Use version history effectively - it's not just for security/peace of mind!

I use version history extensively and find it very useful for doing document comparisons and finding why I made a certain change or retrieving an existing format/content from an out-dated version.

I tend to use the backstage view of Office 2010, where you can see comments for each version, see all versions and compare against existing fairly easily.

Open an older version and you get the following options for comparison in the backstage.

Quickly compare using the powerful word compare functionality against an existing document. Useful for showing changes if you can't/don’t use tracked changes. Particularly useful if your generating your documentation out of tools such as Enterprise Architect or Axure RP (anything really, those are just the two that I've done it for in the past).

7.) Document library templates - enforce documentation standards

Document library templates are another useful way of setting standards within your document library. You can assign a .dot template (or any other office template for that matter) to the document library or content type and use that each time a new document is created - very useful!

Rather than the standard 'New Document dialog'  you can set a specific template  for all documents using the content type. In my example, we have one setup for all SRS documents that uses the same styles, structure and document info for all of your requirements documentation. Small thing to set up that significantly reduces rework and doesn’t bog you down during the review phase.

Setting a template is done via the document library settings -> Advanced Settings. There is an aptly named 'Document Template' option where you can upload and edit the document template.

Well that's all for now, those are most of the main additions I use in day-to-day document libraries I use and if anyone wants any further details on particulars or further justification as to why I chose a certain option, feel free to email or comment! Any and all feedback is welcome.

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