Top 10 Best Practices for SharePoint Document Management

By Anthony Lee, Consultant

Anthony started his SharePoint journey back in 2007 and is proficient across everything from InfoPath forms, PowerShell scripting, complex SharePoint migrations and SharePoint administration, and backs his experience up with a string of Microsoft SharePoint and Office 365 certifications.

Companies that have adopted SharePoint as a platform for their document management solution often face common issues with their document libraries, particularly in cases where the solution was not implemented based on best practices. The common issues that are faced are:

  • Usability
  • Lengthy URLs exceeding the URL length limitation
  • Security
  • User experience
  • File duplication
  • 1 Lonely View
  • Cannot sort and filter
  • Lost documents
  • Change is hard
  • Navigation
  • Cost
  • Large libraries exceeding the 5,000 item list view threshold limit
  • Cannot co-author Microsoft Office documents
  • Data save conflicts

Often, we find companies request to migrate their content from their network file shares across to SharePoint, effectively wanting to replace their network file share systems with SharePoint being the document management solution. To fully take advantage of SharePoint, it is always recommended to convert the file share system into a solution architected based on best practices in the SharePoint platform. This is to get the most out of the software and also to provide the business with a return on investment. If the file share is merely replicated in SharePoint, the return on investment is limited, as it is merely a like for like set up just on a different platform. 

Some of the best practices for SharePoint Document Management address these common issues and aim to solve them. 

1. Document Versioning

Enable document library versioning to ensure a complete version history is kept and maintained. This allows document changes to be tracked, and provides a mechanism to allow users to restore from previous versions if required and view details on past changes made. Major and minor versions are able to be maintained, and there is the option to specify how many major and minor versions are to be retained. It is recommended to set a figure of versions to retain to ensure storage consumed does not grow exponentially due to versions. If major versions are required to be created, we recommend as a rule of thumb retaining 10 major versions. If major and minor versions are required to be created, we recommend as a rule of thumb retaining 10 major and 10 minor (draft) versions.

Key Benefits:

  • Store Major and/or Minor versions on documents in the library, providing the option for restoring previous versions if/when required
  • Track changes on documents

2. Indexed Columns

When a list or library has a large number of items, you must carefully plan its organization and how users need to access the data. By planning and using a few key list and library features, you can ensure that users can find information without adversely affecting the performance of the rest of your site.

To improve the performance of a large list or library, you can index a column. An index on a column enables SharePoint to quickly analyse the data in that column, even when working with thousands or millions of items. For a view to quickly filter through a large number of items, the filter must be applied to a column that is indexed.

Consider the following:

  • Each additional column index consumes extra resources in the database. Therefore, you should add indexes only to columns that will be used actively in views on the list or library.
  • When you define a view in a list or library with lots of items, it is important to use a filter that will return no more than two thousand items.
  • Only one indexed column can be used in a view filter. You can filter on many different columns, but it is important that the first column you use to filter the view has an index and that it sufficiently reduces the total number of items returned.
  • Defining a view that uses an OR filter does not have any benefits of an indexed column.
  • Defining an item limit in a view does not have the same benefits as filtering by an indexed column.

Key Benefits:

  • Indexed columns in document libraries bypasses the 5,000 items list view threshold limit.
  • Improved performance and helps manage large libraries.


3. Document Library Naming and File Naming Conventions

Document libraries must have a logical name to make the document management solution intuitive to use and ensure content is uploaded into the correct location. This would improve user adoption and collaboration. It is also important to ensure no spaces are included in document library internal names. On the Internet, spaces are encoded as “%20” in the URL. Spaces are acceptable to be included in the display name for document libraries. Without spaces, the URL is constructed in a more user friendly manner.

File naming conventions are recommended to be named in a logical manner and short to ensure URL length limits are adhered to. It is highly recommended to not use any special characters in folder names, file names and also in document library names. Special characters such as ampersand, are not to be used. Always use alpha and numeric characters only.

Key Benefits:

  • Logical naming of document libraries and file names improves navigation and makes the system more intuitive.
  • Shorter and more user friendly URLs and no special characters used ensures continual system availability and functionality with improved usability.

4. Stick to One Type of Content per Library

To avoid hours of adding tags to bulk uploads, using one type of content per library can save time. This means organising content distributed across different libraries can aid in reducing time required to tag documents in their corresponding libraries.

What are the benefits of implementing this best practice?

Key Benefits:

  • Structure document libraries to store individual content types, shortening the time required to bulk tag documents
  • Improves content organisation and findability

5. Use Metadata Instead of Folders

Do not use folders to store content in document libraries because this can cause issues such as users misfiling documents, documents getting lost in nested folders, and it's more time consuming to navigate around document libraries to locate content. Tagging is preferable because it is more flexible. It also means you can view items by different classifications, which enriches the functionality of your library. Metadata provides the ability to view the list of files in the document library in different ways that allows you to find content quicker and also produces quality reports that is virtually impossible using folder structures.

Key Benefits:

  • Better organisation of content
  • Ability to filter and group content using metadata
  • Provide useful reporting of content in document libraries
  • Improved content findability
  • Eliminates chances of documents getting lost in nested folders
  • Minimises chances of content getting misfiled

6. Site Columns and Site Content Types

As a rule of thumb, document libraries are to have no more than 5 columns for metadata. Site columns and site content types are definitions that can be re-used across a site or its subsites. This saves set up time and helps minimise admin overhead.

Site content types help structure a document library’s content by defining the metadata required to be captured in the content type, and associating the content type to files in the library.

Key Benefits:

  • Better organisation of content
  • Ability to filter through files in a document library based on content type and metadata
  • Re-usability of site columns and site content types across sites
  • Push changes made to site columns out across all areas that inherit from the site column
  • Push the associated document template and read only settings for a site content type to all areas that inherit from the site content type
  • Create views in the document library utilising the content types and metadata columns

7. Check Out Feature

If the organisation requires the ability to co-author on Microsoft Office documents in the library, it is recommended not to turn on the “Require Check Out” setting.

The function of this feature is to prevent alteration of a document by multiple individuals. This is a good feature to have when there is more than one person working on a specific project or to prevent another from making changes to completed work without consulting you about it first.

Key Benefits:

  • Minimising data conflicts by turning on the require check out feature
  • Allowing for co-authoring of Microsoft Office documents when the require check out feature is turned off
  • Maintain data integrity

8. Document Library Permissions

In document libraries, the permissions recommended to be set up is to adhere to using SharePoint groups rather than granting users access directly to the library. This minimises admin overhead from a permissions management perspective. With this security model, users can be added / removed from the SharePoint group(s), which subsequently controls their access levels to the library, depending on the group’s assigned permission levels on the library. Without the need for folders, permissions can be set up directly on the document library (if the library is to have unique permissions different to the site level permissions), otherwise the library’s permissions can inherit from the defined permissions at the site level.

Key Benefits:

  • Controlling who has access to specific content in document libraries using the SharePoint security model

9. Document Library Views

When document libraries include metadata and files are tagged appropriately, document library views can be set up to present the content in different ways that will help users find content quicker and easier. Content such as the most recently modified files can be presented at the top of the default view, saving the user time in finding the document that was last updated in the library.

Views can also provide a great reporting feature on the content in the library.

The All Documents document library view is the default view that typically always has all the metadata properties in the library visible. This view is to be used for doing bulk tagging on the documents in the library, post the bulk upload of files. It can also be considered as the administrative view of the library.

Key Benefits:

  • Improved content findability
  • Reporting of content
  • Enhanced user productivity
  • Bulk tagging of documents in the library post bulk upload

10. Configure Alerts

Alerts can be set up in a document library. They will inform you if someone is trying to change or delete your documents in some form or fashion. It will also keep you up to date on what has been added / changed in the document library through email notifications. The following are the available options to configure for the alert:

Key Benefits:

  • Stay up to date with content updates in the document library
  • Enhance document library collaboration
  • Improve productivity

Next steps

The next step that can be taken in SharePoint for further enhancements, utilising the document library features such as metadata is:

  • Customising search with search refiners and result sources

This can aid in improving content findability and filtering through large result sets. Search refiners and result sources can improve search performance, as they are targeted to returning a subset of results from the entire search index.