5 tips for working with SharePoint 2010

Useful and time-saving advanced techniques to make the most of the tool.

Now that you have a good feel for what is possible in SharePoint 2010 and how to do common tasks, here are some tips for taking advantage of some more advanced functionality and getting the most out of your SharePoint site.

This story accompanies our SharePoint 2010 cheat sheet, which provides a full introduction to the software's interface and features.

SharePoint - setting up alerts
You can use set up alerts to let you know if anything in a library, or a specific document, has been changed. Click to view larger image.

1. Set up alerts. SharePoint can be configured to send you an email or an SMS text message whenever things are changed on either a specific item in a library or if anything in a library as a whole changes. This is useful since you won't then have to go back and manually check each SharePoint site for changes. You can set up alerts using the Alert Me button in the Ribbon on any given SharePoint content area.

Clicking it brings up the New Alert window, where you add a title to the alert, the delivery method (as mentioned, either an email to a specified address or a phone number for an SMS text message), the context of the alert (whether an alert is sent for any change at all, or only if new items are added, if existing items are modified, or if items are deleted), the scope of an alert (if anything changes, if a document changes, if a document you created or last modified changes), and how quickly the alert is sent after a change (you can set up an immediate alert, a daily summary, or a weekly summary, and you can customize the time for this).

SharePoint alerts - info
Once you set up an alert, you can add information such as the title, whether you prefer email or SMS as the alert vehicle and so on. Click to view larger image.

The alert then comes directly to you. (See example.)

2. Customize your views and add columns when necessary. Sometimes, you might need to track a little more information about items in a library than SharePoint comes pre-configured out of the box to track.

For example, you might want to add a drop-down list that has choices about an item's status that users can select at various points during the lifecycle of that item. It's easy to add these choices to SharePoint list views so that you can work with these statuses.

In a document library, for example, select the Library tab from the Library Tools group, and then click Create Column.

SharePoint - customizing views
Customizing your views within SharePoint. Click to view larger image.

You can give the column a name, and then select the type of information this column will contain; in this example, we'll select Choice, which will prompt SharePoint to display a menu of choices. You can then add a user-friendly description of the column, make its completion mandatory and enforce whether more than one item in a library can have the same status, and then you can type each status choice on separate lines in the next box.

Also, you can then select how the choices will be displayed, allow users to write in choices and pick a default value. Finally, you can add this new column to the default view of the site so that it becomes immediately visible to users. Now you have a consistent set of choices to track additional information.

Adding columns to SharePoint
You can add a drop-down list that has choices about an item's status. Click to view larger image.

When you upload a document to this library with the new column's presence enforced, after upload you get a window asking you to choose from the selections you defined when creating the column. That choice, after you confirm it by clicking OK, is then populated in SharePoint's database and displayed in the column in the default view. You can change it by editing the item's properties.

If you are working on a Microsoft Office 2010 document in a library, and choose to save it back to the library, you'll also be prompted for the status within the individual Office application. In other words, all of the ways you interact with documents will now have that new column selection required.

3. Use the Explorer view when doing more than simple file maintenance. If you are uploading a big group of files to SharePoint, it can be cumbersome to try to fit them all into the drag-and-drop window. Or maybe you want to copy a lot of files out of SharePoint onto, say, a thumb drive for transport. Luckily there's a way to make your SharePoint site's document libraries appear just like any other disk in your file system.

Getting an Explorer view in SharePoint
You can use make SharePoint look like any other disk in your file system, with an Explorer view. Click to view larger image.

Open a document library within your Web browser (I have found that Internet Explorer works best for this), and, from the Library Tools group, click the Library tab. Then, from the Connect & Export Ribbon group, click Open with Explorer. You may get a security warning you need to acknowledge -- click OK or Yes on this, depending on how your system is configured -- and then you'll get a standard Windows Explorer or File Explorer window just like you're used to. Copy, paste, cut and move to your heart's content from here.

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