In a previous article (and accompanying video), I showed you how to create a SharePoint site, populate it with news stories, and create a task list. In this video, I share one of the most powerful features of SharePoint — the ability to upload, manage, and track documents.
One version of the truth
Nearly every project I work on has the same problem: No one knows the location for the latest relevant documents. Microsoft attempts to resolve this issue by allowing teams to create their document libraries on their SharePoint sites.
Unfortunately, technology does not fix everything. Given that most people have their own devices (computers, tablets, phones, etc.), they do not always follow the rules and upload their documents to SharePoint. As a SharePoint team site owner, you need to set the rules for when and how people upload their documents. For example:
- Do you require any document for the project or just those that are required deliverables?
- Should team members work on the draft version of SharePoint or should they do that on their computer and upload when the document is complete?
- If your team site has multiple folders, do you have clear rules for where to store various documents?
About document libraries
When you upload a document to SharePoint, you are storing it in what Microsoft calls a document library. Document libraries are unique in that they are aware you want to store documents in them and (where applicable) can even generate a preview of the file. That preview option is nice because people can see what the document looks like before they open it.
SharePoint automatically creates a Documents library for you. In most cases, having one single library as a dumping ground for files is not that useful. Technically, you can create subfolders and categories to make it easier to find files, but SharePoint is best at sharing a list of all the documents and has some search options.
Document libraries also provide version control, so there is no need to create filenames like mydocument-draft and mydocument-FINAL. Instead, you just create one file, call it mydocument and SharePoint will handle the versions for you.
Given the default Documents library may not be enough, I recommend you hide it from the quick launch navigation pane, create your own useful document library names, and add them to the quick launch. Since SharePoint handles version control for you, I do not recommend you create libraries that represent file versions. For example:
Typically bad document library names:
- Draft specifications
- Final specifications
- Stage 1 documents
- Stage 2 documents
Instead, I recommend you create documents that mean something to particular people. For example:
Typically good document library names:
- Marketing material
- Sales material
- Project management
Notice the good examples I give are useful because they target the audience. Marketing people will know they upload their documents to the Marketing library. All the teams have a place that is clearly marked for them.
In the past, SharePoint did not work well with non-Microsoft document types, but today SharePoint supports many document types, including PDF, ZIP, and TXT files. Still, Microsoft Office documents work best because you can edit most Office documents from directly within the browser, on a phone or tablet, or make edits on your computer.
If you are working with non-Microsoft file types like PSD files (Photoshop) or AI (Illustrator) file types, contact your IT department to make sure there will not be any issues. For example, some document types may not support (or work well) with version control.
When you create a new document library with SharePoint Online (Office 365), the library will manage version control. Version control is very powerful because as you make changes to the document, SharePoint automatically creates a new version for you. If you make a mistake and need to revert to an older version, you can do this quickly and easily without any help from IT.
Version control may not be active with older SharePoint sites, or SharePoint sites you create on-premise. Microsoft may one day decide not to turn on version control by default. That is why I always recommend you check that version control is turned on for your document libraries.
How to enable or disable version control for a document library:
- Go to the document library.
- Click the Gear icon at the top-right of the page.
- A menu appears. Select the Library Settings item.
- The Settings page appears. Click the Versioning Settings link.
- Select the Create major versions checkbox. Do not leave this page yet.
- Select the Keep the following number of major versions and type a number (Microsoft uses a default of 500).
- Click the OK button.
In that settings page, you may have noticed some other options, such as the ability to track minor versions, track draft and published versions differently, and much more. Those are more advanced topics for another article. For purposes of this article, I recommend you at least start with the major versions feature.
When you go to a document library, there are some options along the title area of the page. One of those options is to upload a document or folder. I recommend you avoid using folders whenever possible, but that is an option if you need to.
Another way to upload files is to drag-and-drop files from your desktop directly into the browser window, but make sure you drag-and-drop into the area where the files are located. You cannot just drag documents onto any area of the page, so you will usually be safe by just dragging to the center of the browser window.
Creating new documents
By default, you can create brand new documents directly from SharePoint without the need to first upload a document. You can create the following types of documents:
- Links to other documents
Since Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote are available as browser applications, you can use nearly all their features from directly within the browser. You can even open a PowerPoint deck and present it directly from the browser.
If you decide to edit the document on your computer, I recommend you use the Open option rather than using the download option. The reason I recommend the Open option is because SharePoint will download the file to your computer and leave it connected to SharePoint. When you click the Save button, the file will automatically save to SharePoint.
If you download the file, then you will need to edit the file and re-upload it to the SharePoint site later, which is a real hassle and can cause version control issues because now people will not know you are working on the document.
A welcome new feature in SharePoint Online is the ability to pin documents. Each document library can contain one document that you pin to the top of the document library. That is the document you probably want everyone to see.
For example, if your team site is for a new product launch, the Marketing team can pin the latest brochure to the top of the document library. If someone visits the Project Management folder, the status report can appear at the top of the page.
There are so many features of document libraries, I cannot get into all of them, but these are the important elements I suggest you start with.