Secret SharePoint: Tricking Users into Entering Metadata

Monday, July 30, 2018

Secret SharePoint: Tricking Users into Entering Metadata

Rob Bogue

One of the most difficult challenges that implementers have is to get their users to enter metadata.  Metadata drives search and findability, but users just don’t want to do one more thing.  They may intellectually understand the need to find their work, but in the day to day work, it gets lost.  This might cause them to select the first option in a required drop-down.  I call this the “Afghanistan effect” because Afghanistan is first in an alphabetical list of countries and, especially for American users, is often not the correct entry for most uses of a Country field.  If the fields aren’t required, they may ignore them all together.  Here, we’ll look at two techniques for “tricking” users into entering metadata: Word quick parts, and column default value settings.

Solution 1: Word Quick Parts

Let’s face it.  Most of the forms in the organization are made in Word.  I don’t necessarily mean that they’re Word forms officially.  I really mean that they are things that some admin typed up in Word years ago, and it’s what people use.  It might be a printed piece of paper that they fill out with a pen.  It might be electronic by filling in a document, but in a way that might break the formatting.  After all, creating Word forms as “real” forms isn’t something they were ever taught.  They just sort of did something that mostly worked.

What if you could take the mostly electronic process of using Word forms and instead create forms that, when filled out, would automatically populate the fields in SharePoint?  The users still need to think about a name for their document, but after that, you can associate a workflow to the form and do the automatic processing that you want to do.

Solution 2: Column Default Value Settings

We have had file folders with us since DOS 2.0.  That’s a long time to create a pattern of behavior for using folders for organizing our files.  Though many believe that metadata-based file storage and retrieval is better, it’s largely irrelevant, because users continue to use files.  The Enterprise file synchronization and storage category is based on the premise that users store their files in folders, and if metadata is needed, it’s extracted from that structure.

SharePoint can do this.  You say that, for a given folder, these columns need to be set to these values.  So for the folder /Customers/ABC you might set the file type column at /Customers to “Customer” and at the /Customers/ABC folder you can set the customer column to “ABC.”  For every file that is placed in the /Customers/ABC folder, both the file type and customer columns will be set — if they’re not manually set to something else.

About the Author

Robert Bogue is a thought leader on all things SharePoint and an engaging presenter who speaks at events around the world.  Rob has been awarded the Microsoft MVP designation fifteen times and earned recognition as a Microsoft patterns & practices Champion.  Rob holds certifications from Microsoft: MCPD, MCITP, MCTS, MCSA: Security, MCSE, as well as CompTia: A+, Network+, Server+, I-Net+, IT Project+, E-Biz+, CDIA+.  Rob also served as a team member for the SharePoint Guidance.  He is the author of 25 books.  Robert is committed to “making the complicated simple.”  Find out more about SharePoint made simple at www.SharePointShepherd.com and get all the SharePoint secrets and more by visiting www.ThorProjects.com/content.  You can also contact Rob at Rob.Bogue@ThorProjects.com.

The feature is on the Library Settings page, and it’s called Default Column Value Settings.  As the name implies, it only sets the values if the field doesn’t already have a setting.  So if there was a customer folder /Customers/DEF, and a file was moved from /Customers/ABC to /Customers/DEF, it would still be tagged as Customer “ABC” — so it’s not perfect, but it’s much better than nothing.

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