Tips for working in SharePoint document libraries – Part 6

Welcome to Part 6 of our tips for working in SharePoint document libraries. Part 5 introduced the concept of views in SharePoint. Today we’ll build on that theme and explore the ability to filter and sort information in document libraries, and have a quick look at Search.

A document library is really just a list of information.  This is easy to conceptualise when you work with your document library in Quick Edit mode.  In Quick Edit mode, your document library acts more like an Excel spreadsheet, even down to having a fill handle to quickly add data to columns.

SharePoint-Document-Library-Quick-Edit

Excel has filter and sort capacity and in a similar fashion, SharePoint lists can be sorted and filtered. This is why applying relevant metadata columns to your document libraries can be so powerful. Any column can be sorted or filtered to promote desired content within the list.

Let’s explore what it means to filter and sort your document libraries using the available columns:

When documents are “Modified”

SharePoint-Document-Library-Sort-by-modified

Sort your Modified column in descending order to promote recently modified documents to the top of the list. This is often the quickest way to find the document you’re after, if it’s newly added or something you’ve been working on recently.

Documents that are “Modified By”

SharePoint-Document-Library-Sort-Modified-by

If you don’t have a “My Docs” view, you can use the Modified By column to select only documents that have been modified by you. You can also use this to filter documents modified by other team members, so if you’re looking for a document you know was last modified by a particular team member, this can be a useful filter to apply. It can catch you out however, if someone else modified the document in the meantime, it may not show the results you are expecting.

Modified and Modified By are out of the box columns (they are created as the default columns in new document libraries). When used in conjunction they can very quickly surface desired content.

Documents of a particular file type

SharePoint-Document-Library-Sort-by-File-Type

I’m particularly fond of this filter. If I’m after an Excel document that I know the team has been working on, but I’m not sure what it’s named, I’ll sort the library by Modified and then filter the file types by Excel. It’s easy to see what Excel documents are there and identify the document that I’m looking for.

Being able to preview the document helps too, clicking on the ellipsis will open the menu dialog for the selected item and most files can be viewed in preview.

SharePoint-Document-Library-File-Preview

Documents that relate to custom metadata

In addition to the out of the box columns above, your libraries may be configured with other columns that contain custom metadata.

SharePoint-Document-Library-Sort-by-metadata

Any additional columns can be used to filter and sort documents in a library. In this example, a “department” column has been added to this library. It will allow the selection of multiple items, so it’s easy to filter everything tagged to one or more specific departments.

Of course, all of these scenarios are based around you knowing which document library to look in.  What happens when you’re not sure where a document lives?

Why not just search?

SharePoint has a search engine and if you have an idea of the document name or subject matter, you can often find what you’re after by entering a few keywords into the site search bar. Search refiners can then help to further narrow down the results. For example, if I want to find all PDF documents, created by me, containing the word “intranet”, search is a handy tool for turning up the results I’m looking for.

SharePoint-Using-Search

It is also possible to create Web Parts that have search refiners applied to them, to help users find the information they are looking for with greater ease. Search can be very effective and search tools that have been specifically built for the site are of great value to users.

However, your documents can be found easily in libraries without search. The key is to have a well-defined and reasonably flat site architecture, so that users know where documents should be stored without burying them in deep sub-folder structures.  If you master applying filters and sorting columns, the documents you are looking for will always be promoted to the top of the list, even if there are hundreds of documents in a library.

It’s worth noting that people don’t know what they don’t know.  While filters, sorting and search can help users find the documents they are after, it doesn’t solve a common business problem that many companies have. Users are often simply unaware, or have forgotten, that a particular document even exists.

Many a wheel has been reinvented because people were unaware the work had already been done.  A communication platform such as Yammer can be a great way for team members to share knowledge of the documents that are being created or worked on and there’s nothing like a regular presentation slot during team meetings for sharing this sort of knowledge.

This article was written using SharePoint Online via Office 365 to demonstrate the current features of SharePoint document libraries. If you’d like to explore how you can improve user adoption for an existing SharePoint site, or you’re interested in moving to Office 365 call us today to find out more.

Stay tuned for our next article as we continue our series on working with SharePoint Document Libraries!

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