Welcome to Part 7 of our tips for working in SharePoint document libraries. Part 6 explored the ability to filter and sort information in document libraries, and took a quick look at Search. Today, we’re talking content types and how they can be used to manage your templates.
Understanding Content Types
Content types are different to document types. A document type is usually concerned with the file type. What type of document is it? It’s a Word doc, Excel doc, Publisher doc, PDF and so on. Content types are more concerned with, as the name suggests, the content of a document (or other SharePoint item type such as list items and media files).
Your organisation already produces many different types of content. Your sales department produces sales proposals. These sales proposals are produced using a standard template and they share a common set of attributes that are of particular interest; the customer to whom the proposal is sent, the type of products quoted and a sales stage for example.
Your finance department produces budget reports. They too share a common set of attributes; fiscal year, reviewer, review date. They might also share attributes with your sales proposals. A budget report may also be tied to a particular customer, or a particular product.
SharePoint content types enable you to manage content consistently. By identifying all the different types of content that your organisation produces and asking the question “what additional information (metadata) do I always want to capture about this content?” you can help users produce content created from approved company templates and prompt them to capture the relevant metadata.
Managing Company Templates
While not the sole purpose of content types, this is a good place to start trying to get your head around how they work, because anything that your company produces from a document template is a prime candidate for a content type.
Contracts, agreement documents, bills of materials, process documents, marketing brochures, scope of works, work breakdown structures, user guides, product specifications, position descriptions, performance reviews, quotes, estimates, job sheets, budgets, standards, reports, the list goes on. Anywhere you have (or should have) a company template there will likely be a common set of attributes that relate. There’s even potentially a common process workflow that needs to happen whenever the document is created.
Content types enable you to manage all of these templates and then build on them by associating additional functionality.
Creating Content Types
If you have permission to do so, content types are created in the following manner. Making sure you’re at the top level of your site collection, head to the site settings.
When you click on site content types, you’re presented with the list of existing out of the box content types and any custom content types that have been created. At the top of the list you’ll see the “create” icon.
You’ll then be directed to create a name and description for your content type. All content types require a parent that they’ll inherit their basic attributes from. For document content types, selecting parent content types as shown above is the most logical of options.
You also need to select a group to put the content type into. Custom Content Types is again the most logical option, or you may want to create a new group type, if say for instance you’re planning to make a lot of related content types.
Once you’ve created your content type, you have the option to associate other attributes to it. These include:
- A document template
- Columns of metadata that must or should be captured
- Workflow Settings to automate actions or kick off a chain of events
- Information management such as retention policies
- Document Information Panel settings
Adding Content Types to Libraries
Administrators need to allow management of content types in libraries. Once allowed, multiple content types can be added to a single library via the library settings. A single content type can also be added to multiple libraries. You might do both in the following manner:
- A single library might be used to store performance reviews, position descriptions and letters of offer (such as a Human Resources library)
- A company decides all documents should be tagged with the department and an expiry date. A “Company Document” content type is created with department and expiry date as required attributes. This is added to every library as the default new document. It is also used as the basis for all other content types, so the required information is inherited.
Create “New Documents”
While it is possible and in some instances very practical, to upload documents that have been created outside of your SharePoint environment, it is good practice to encourage users to create documents from within document libraries, using the content types that have been added to them. This ensures that when content is created, it is done so with consistency; everyone is using the same templates and prompted to associate the required metadata.
When content types have been added to a library, they appear in the drop down menu for “New Documents”.
A company adds a “Sales Proposal” content type to the library they use to manage documents that relate to their clients. Each time they need to create a proposal, they simply choose it from the options in the ribbon and by doing so, create a new document in that library, based on the sales proposal template. Because attributes such as client and product have been associated, they are required to enter these details in order to save the document.
The biggest challenge with content types is of course your users. They need to be aware that content types exist, have a basic understanding of why they are in use and commit to using them to create documents, rather than creating content outside of the SharePoint environment and circumventing the system you’ve worked hard to put in place.
It all comes down to training and awareness, which is worth the effort; in order to capitalise on the power of content types, your users need to know they are there and what benefits they deliver when it comes to document management.
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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