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The accounting department currently holds a paper based archive. They print copies of various contracts, e-mails and other documents. They write personal notes onto these copies. These notes are usually in specific spots in the document that they relate to, like a sum of money.

This is a use case that I can't fulfill with SharePoint Online right now. The base files must be visible to a wide array of people (project managers, customer reps). The accountants demand some way to document various interactions with these files, for example price increases, email conversations, customer calls, billing numbers, you name it. These notes are, to them, personal and shouldn't be visible to other people. Attaching notes to specific spots in the document isn't a hard requirement, just nice to have.

Various things I've tried:

  • Creating copies of the document: Documents change and the copy with notes in it would inevitably expire. The point of SharePoint is to create a Single Source of Truth.
  • Office comments: Visible to everyone with access to the document and not available for PDF documents.
  • Teams thread: Very clunky. Sometimes you'll create multiple chat threads for a single document. You'd need to pin all documents in the channel.
  • Custom personal view in the document library: The only real option that currently comes to mind. I'd create a column containing the personal notes, take all member's permissions to create views (effectively hiding the column) and create personal views for the accountants.

Is there a better way to attach personal notes to documents?

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  • let me make sure I understand the process your users are using: contract comes in, user prints it out & hand writes notes into the document, then it gets scanned and uploaded into SharePoint? Is this correct? Commented Feb 21, 2021 at 0:28
  • It's correct, with the exception that currently no scanning and uploading is involved at all. We can completely replace this process. There is an old SharePoint 2010 server, but the contracts can simply be migrated by hand. Commented Feb 21, 2021 at 1:17
  • I would like to have the contracts on SharePoint Online, if possible. That's why I asked this question. In order to migrate, I will need to fulfill the requirements. Commented Feb 21, 2021 at 1:18
  • another 2 questions: what browser(s) does your organization support? Also, upon uplifting the content to SharePoint Online, is there the requirement to somehow extract these hand written comments?, Commented Feb 25, 2021 at 5:04
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    Sorry for really late response. When re-reading all the comments and your question anew, my answer to you is to tell them that they can either have greater visibility into the documents by not printing them out and using MS Word or PDF commenting internal to the document and/or SharePoint-based commenting but they cannot have the comments private… or … they can keep using paper. This appears to be a culture issue within your company. If you can demand any browser for your users, you should be able to lay out what is actually possible and let the users/owners/managers choose. Commented Jun 13, 2021 at 4:23

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Just a reminder, list view level security is not supported in SharePoint Online. So custom personal list views will work if you want to restrict the view to the user itself, but not when you want to hide the columns from specific (group of) users.

There are a few options if you want to add comments to non-Office documents (PDF):

  1. There is a comment section under Activity on the Details pane. This feature is not available for Office documents.

  2. You can add comments by checking out/in document, which will be written in the built-in column “Check In Comment”.

More information on reference: 6 ways to add comments to documents in SharePoint.

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