I have been tasked to roll out SharePoint to various departments within a division. My initial hope was create 1 document library for each department and associated content types and meta data.

However, for one department the manager said it was unrealistic to expect his team to load files 1 by 1 and then select/choose the appropriate meta data/content types.

Thus, I have 2 issues:

  1. A method for the user to load multiple files at once and
  2. How to capture content types and meta data.

For No. 1 this is easily resolved by telling the user to use Windows Explorer or Harmon.ie (An Outlook add-in).

No. 2 is a little thornier as it seems like for this department I am forced to use folders and depending on what folder receives the file then I can default the content types and meta value.

However, a major selling point of SharePoint is to be able to easily search and manage files. Can someone give me some advice on how to manage the file/folder structure for this particular department ?

I need to avoid the situation in 6 months where the SP folder structure is so out of hand I was better off having the department not use SP and use the file server LAN.

5 Answers 5


In SharePoint 2010, any SharePoint expert would recommend the use of metadata. That's how the system was designed to be used. However, there are now a few obstacles to using metadata:

  • Adding files via drag-drop doesn't prompt the user to populate metadata fields
  • Creating new files via office online doesn't prompt the user to populate metadata fields
  • Office online doesn't support the document information panel
  • The Office client moved the document information panel to a location that no one can find without being shown or googling for instructions

So what do we do? One solution is .... Folders. Yes, folders. You'll note that MS is currently using folders for things like email attachments in OneDrive.

Another possibility is to use lots of smaller sites and libraries instead of one big library. For example, MS is due to release a new "experience" to Office 365 to manage projects. Each project will get it's own Office 365 group, and therefore its own document store. So instead of a large library with a metadata field to identify which project a document is associated with, there will be lots of project sites (and therefore lots of libraries).

I'm not saying to abandon metadata and use folders, as that would violate my guild rules ;) But, you certainly need to include usability testing as part of your design.

One more thing, just in case the users are concerned about the initial file load to get things moved to SharePoint, take a look at ShareGate. This is one of several available tools to help with migration. You configure the tool to get data from your local network file shares and move them to SP. You can have ShareGate populate metadata based on things like the folder where the document currently exists. So after the existing files are moved, the metadata issue only exists for adding new files.

  • I assume though I will nee d to create folders for year and month for a Content Type of Contracts as an example: Layering would Contracts/Contractor/Year/Month
    – daPlayaURH
    Nov 11, 2015 at 17:40
  • I just don't have a great answer. Using metadata fields for year and month would seem to be the right answer, but that would mean training the users to not drag-drop files into the library, and to only use the upload dialog box as to properly populate the metadata fields. Or, if possible, embed the fields into the document template so that users just fill in the fields as part of writing the doc. (see quickparts in word for this (though this only works for word. Not pdf, etc.)) Or perhaps use the document created date to organize docs instead of requiring the user to specify a year/month?
    – Mike2500
    Nov 11, 2015 at 17:58

You could create multiple Document Sets. When they upload files it will be automatically tagged with the selected metadata of the Document set.


May I suggest Column default value settings.

In this library, create a folder for each document type. Also create a choice column that corresponds to those types. In the library settings, under "Column default value settings" map the folder to the column choice. Finally, set the default view to "Show all items without folders".

Drag and drop still works AND your metadata navigation is intact. BONUS: you can permission the folders individually and the default view is still security trimmed even though the folders are not visible.

  • Be very careful with this feature. Lets say you have folders for north, south, etc., and you add a brand new document to the north folder. It now has a value of north. Nice! But, if you move or copy that document to the south folder, it still retains its value of north. This service provides default values, and so if there's already a value it does not get changed. Often, people create new docs by copying an existing doc. If anyone does this, then using this feature will cause confusion.
    – Mike2500
    Nov 11, 2015 at 16:14

Document sets will resolve most of your concerns. Instead of folders use document sets and your main concern of how to tag metadata with the folders automatically will be solved. As document set can have their own default content types. Your search issue will also be resolved with this.


Why not create multiple document libraries for this department, one for each Content Type.

You can set default values for your metadata at the Document Library level, so users may not need to actually define their own metadata at all.

  • Agreed..but lets say one content type is Contracts with meta data of Contractor and Sign-Off Date, I will then have 2 sub folders called Contractor and Sign-Off date. My understanding is SharePoint can not search on these sub folders ? In addition if sub folders are ok how would you suggest I manage the sub folders
    – daPlayaURH
    Nov 11, 2015 at 3:56
  • Search does not crawl the title of the folder, so indeed folders on their own are of little use from a search perspective. You can however create a Column called Subcontractor and then assign a default value for each subcontractor to their subcontractor folder. Check out this post. blogs.interfacett.com/… I would imagine your sign off date would have to be manually entered, much like the way StateOfOrigin is manually entered in the tutorial. Nov 12, 2015 at 3:46

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