There are multiple ways to be able to categorize documents in SharePoint but for most they consider two options:
I have a library that is going to contain different types of documents. I want to be able to tell them apart. Should I create a Content Type for each or should I just use the out of the box Document Content Type and add a column called 'Document Type' that shows me my different document types?
Without doubt this is one of the most common questions that all users have when they get onto the SharePoint platform. However its not actually that easy to answer since there are a number of variables involved (yes that is my SharePoint Consultant voice I am speaking with). In this post lets look at some of the things you should consider. Before that lets look at the two ways to classify documents that are commonly used:
Classify with multiple Content Types
This way you create a different Content Type for each document that you want to have. The Content Type name corresponds to the different documents you want to create and classify.
When you upload or create a document in this library you choose from a set of Content Types that defines what your document is.
Single Document Content Type with additional metadata
This way you simply have a single Content Type (most probably the default Document Content Type) and then create a column (the ever present Document Type) that you use to categorize the documents with.
When you create or upload a document into this library you don’t choose a Content Type but you choose a value from the Document Type choice field:
So what is the correct choice? Well there really isn’t one right answer and as always it depends on your requirements. Personally I always lean to creating Content Types but that is my personal preference on the matter. What I hope this does show is how you need to have an understanding of your business requirements before you can make a educated choice (much like everything else in SharePoint).
Content Type Guidelines
If you are going down the Content Type route realize that this will give you more flexibility and provides great power. However it is more difficult to implement, will require a bit more training on behalf of users and has some limitations for bulk changes.
When creating a new type of document you can add some really good information as seen above. This can be extremely useful in guiding users
Different Templates for each Content Type
One major advantage is that you can have a template (Word, PowerPoint or any file type) that you attach to a Content Type. So for each of your document types (say Contract, Due Diligence Records and Executive Presentation) can have its own template.
If you go down the single document type with additional metadata route you will not be able to have multiple templates since you only have one Content Type.
Different settings per Content Types
If each of your different types of documents needs different Workflows, Information Management Policies such as retention, auditing, bar codes and label you can easily do this by defining separate Content Types.
As above if you go down the single document type with additional metadata route you will not be able to have different options since you only have One Content Type.
Share across Libraries, Sites and Site Collections
With the power of Content Type Syndication in SharePoint 2010 you can define your Content Types centrally and then use them across your entire farm. This can be super powerful if you have a number of different types of content that are consistent across your organization.
With the single content type with additional metadata option you could also use this option but you will find that ‘Document Type’ field would need every possible type of document in your organization, quickly making it useless.
Mix different types of content in the same library without sharing all metadata
Something that is often forgotten is that when you have different Content Types in the same library each will have its own set of metadata which can be very useful.
If using the other approach you will be creating List columns which means that you don’t have any flexibility in determine which types of documents will have which metadata columns. Basically all of the content in your library will have the exact same metadata which is something that you might not want.
Additional Skill Required
Put simply its harder to understand and create Content Types than it is to simply add a column to a Document Library (some people think that this is a lost cause). So additional skills and understanding is required.
Cannot Bulk Edit Content Types Easily
For me this is a huge limitation of using Content Types (by the way has anyone got this to work?). You cannot easily change the Content Type of a document in datasheet view which means that it is really difficult to change your document categories.
Using a simple choice column to categorize documents means that you can really easily change the type of content that it is, simply choose the value and drag it down in datasheet view.
However I have heard that you can actually do this then please let me know.
Single Document Content Type with additional metadata guidelines
This route is much easier but it does come with some disadvantages in terms of re-use and lack of flexibility. However considering how easy it is for users to set up it’s a very commonly seen configuration that is performed.
Easy to set up
The reason that this is so common is that its super easy to set up. A simple column and bang you are underway! Although this might not be as elegant as using Content Types its still a far better approach than trying to categorize items within folders.
Easily edit options and bulk change items
By simply using a column to categorize documents power users have the ability to easily add new document types (just add a new choice to the Document Type column). To bulk change items for users they use the Datasheet View to change the column value, thereby changing the type of document.
Its all easy, easy, easy! Using Content Types it’s a bit harder to add them to libraries from an administrator perspective and bulk changes are harder to do (if not impossible out of the box??)
The issue with this approach is that since you can’t logically have a single choice column that contains a complete listing of all of the possible document types you can have (it would be huge) you get users creating the same ‘Document Type’ column at the Library level over and over again.
This causes issues in search, user experience and doesn’t scale very well to more than a few libraries and sites.
Lack of consistent naming
This is another fairly common issue in that users will create multiple Document Type columns, one for each library for example, and then name content that is conceptually the same in a different way.
For example a contract could be called ‘Contact’ in one library, ‘Customer Contract’ in another and yet ‘Contract – Customer’ in another library. This lack of consistency with options can cause major issues for your users and leads to all sorts of Information Architecture madness.
As you can see the choice of which particular approach to categorize content has a number of different elements that you should consider. However first of all understand your business requirements and then make the appropriate choice.
In some situations Content Types may be overkill for your purpose, yet in others the metadata based approach is simply too limiting. Whatever option you choose make sure you understand the tradeoffs between both options.