9 best practice tips for configuring your SharePoint document library

By Peter Vincent

If you’re a regular SharePoint user, you’ve probably wondered if your workplace could do more to organise and manage documents in the right way. Is there a more efficient way to locate content? Are your filing conventions intuitive?

You’re not alone. In my experience, SharePoint users always want to know the best practice tips for ensuring their document libraries are useful, relevant and valuable.

While SharePoint best practices are influenced by an organisation’s unique environment and requirements, there are a few things you can do to instantly improve your SharePoint document library.

These tips apply pretty much universal to any SharePoint document library, whether you’re using SharePoint Online or SharePoint on-premise.

Make sure document versioning is turned on

You know that sinking feeling when you open an important document and discover that it’s corrupted? Or when you accidentally save over the current version of a file and don’t have a backup? Here’s how to avoid it: turn on SharePoint’s document versioning feature.

Versioning means you can store, track and restore files in SharePoint as they are changed. It can be a lifesaver for locating a particular file version, or comparing changes between versions, too.

If you have SharePoint Online, chances are that versioning is already on. This may not be the case for on-premise deployments, so it’s worth double-checking to make sure.

Keep your file numbers within limits: the magic 5000 for older versions

File numbers shouldn’t be a problem in SharePoint Online or SharePoint 2016. But if you’re using an older version of SharePoint, they might be an issue.

In older versions, file numbers aren’t unlimited. Deleting files or managing permissions can get hairy when you’re over your file number limit. To keep your document library running smoothly, don’t store more than 5000 files in a folder, or more than 5000 folders in a library.

Don’t forget that naming configurations stick

Creating a new SharePoint library? Be careful what you call it. Even if you decide to change the library name later, the original name will appear in the library URL (this is to ensure that changes to library names don’t affect access).

It is a compelling reason to think of logical names that are concise and specific enough to be informative.

Avoid spaces when naming libraries

When you create a new library, avoid using spaces in the name. SharePoint URLs don’t accept spaces, so a library called Pete Sales Documents ends up looking like gobbledygook: Pete%$#%^%#@%^&^Sales%$#%^%#@%^&^Documents.

Instead, capitalise the start of each word to make URLs more readable, such as PeteSalesDocuments.

Stick to one type of content per library

Want to avoid hours of adding tags to bulk uploads? It’s easy: just use one type of content per library. Since SharePoint doesn’t let you tag in bulk uploads, you will need to go in later and add tags. Adding bulk tags is much easier if each library has the same content type.

Use meta tagging rather than folders

If you rely on folders for identifying content, you’re locked into a classification type. 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.

Use a view that shows all tags when tagging after a bulk upload

When tagging after a bulk upload, use a view that shows all tags. You can do this by changing the library into a quick edit Excel view so you can easily copy rows and cells.

Changing the views by default means you will probably have a view that has a defaulted number of columns. The idea is that you won’t feel overwhelmed, but you can simply change the default view to see all the tagging columns in the library.

Only lock down content when absolutely necessary

This is a quick but important tip: the more content you lock down, the more difficult it is to maintain associated permissions, access and roles. That’s time consuming, so avoid the hassle by only locking down the vital stuff.

Check out a document’s history with this one simple trick

Want to quickly check out a document’s history? Select your document in SharePoint and click near the name (not on it). You’ll see a ribbon at the top with a button called version history. This will show all the versions of the document to-date and who has done what.

In short, SharePoint is packed with cool features to keep your documents managed, organised and safe. There’s a lot more I could say about SharePoint document management, but following these nine best practice tips will set a strong foundation for maximising your SharePoint investment.

Peter Vincent is a SharePoint consultant at Professional Advantage.