Metadata integration between SharePoint and Word

By Alfred de Weerd posted 12-13-2013 16:51


Everyone likes to use metadata for doing searching, sorting and filtering, but not many of us like to fill in metadata.

Expecting that your users will fill in a large number of metadata would be naïve, unless for some very specific cases. Forcing the metadata upon them has the following adverse effects:

  • People will tend to dislike the platform (SharePoint) and will start discussing its efficiency
  • People will not fill in fields, leave inappropriate defaults or enter random values
  • People will try to circumvent the use of your well though out solution

All three points are taken from my own personal experiences. Do not think you can enforce the use of metadata that people do not see the use of. Users always find ways to store documents without having to deal with excessive metadata. Strategies users typically come up with are:

  • Saving to their local device or a network share
  • If a final version has to be provided in the SharePoint solution, they only provide that final version. All the benefits of versioning in SharePoint have gone to waste
  • Saving to another SharePoint library. This is typically a library which they own, probably in the context of a completely different task
  • Using Google docs, Skydrive or another online document sharing tool.

When you do have a significant number of metadata fields for the user to fill in (rule of thumb: more then 5 metadata fields), you can ease the burden by transferring metadata from Word to SharePoint automatically. Now this can be done on a few different levels:

  • Standard transfer
  • Template based transfer
  • Tool based metadata extraction

As always, the solutions get better from top to bottom and they also require more work and costs.

Standard transfer

Core document properties are those that are common to all Office applications. These are basic document properties such as title, subject, and category. SharePoint includes the following columns that are mapped to these core document properties:

  • Title
  • Subject
  • Author (maps to the Creator core document property)
  • Category
  • Keywords
  • Comments (maps to Description core document property)
  • Status

If you include one of these columns in the content type assigned to a document (or if you add the columns manually to the document library), the document property value is copied from the document to the appropriate column in SharePoint and vice versa. These are the properties that can be found under FileàInfo. If you have the Document Information Panel shown, they will appear there as well.

There are a couple of drawbacks to this approach:

  • For users, filling in metadata this way still feels like spending extra time, especially when using the Document Info page
  • Fields like Status and Category are free text. This will result in using non-aligned terms (Concept versus Draft versus Initial et cetera).
  • There are only a few fields to choose from and you will probably have other metadata fields you need

Template based transfer

Fortunately, it is also possible to have your own metadata fields synchronized between SharePoint and Word. The way to do this is to make the link between Word and SharePoint in a Word template. The fields belonging to the content type are coupled to Quick part fields in Word. This is also why this method doesn't work for Excel, as it has no Quick parts. You can place the Quick parts anywhere in your document. In this way you have a smooth alignment with your template. For the transfer of standard metadata from the previous section, I remarked that to users, it still feels like they need extra time to fill in the metadata. The strange thing is, that when the same metadata is part of a template, users seem much more motivated to fill in the same fields. This came as a surprise to me once I started to note this, as I can find no real reason for it. The behavior is fairly consistent, however. You will probably have noted that most people fill in all fields in a template, even if it is not applicable in a given situation. For documents and metadata, one of the reasons why template based metadata works better is that it is filled in beforehand. Some people have the idea that they have not properly begun until they entered the first (template-based) page of the document, while metadata is commonly added afterward (the document information panel changes this somewhat).

Since this is a feature that helps alleviate the metadata burden where it hurts most and not many people now it, I'll describe how it can be done in the hands-on section below. <Since this little part of the book is quite hands on, is does not fit in this post. Drop me a line if you would like to see this information and I'll create a separate post>

Tool based metadata extraction

Numerous tools are available that claim to extract metadata out of Word (or other) documents. Some are capable to add them automatically to the appropriate SharePoint column. The capabilities offered by the tools is quite diverse. Some look at document properties, thus extracting standard document related metadata, others use artificial intelligence to extract the data.

At this point in time, tool based metadata extraction cannot replace manual metadata entry. It can provide valuable extra metadata though. Using one of these tools will certainly be very valuable if metadata is not available at all, for instance in case of a previous migration of documents from a legacy system.

#tool #sharepoint #metadata #integration #standard #ElectronicRecordsManagement #SharePoint #template #Word
1 comment



12-05-2014 05:05

Well put and I totally agree based on my experience in using SharePoint for replacing more traditional document management solutions. I would very much like to see a followup post on your actual hands-on advice on template based transfer/metadata entry.
For instance, any experience on best/good practice regarding lenghty choice lists vs cascading dropdowns, individual metadata such as title, office, address etc would be much appreciated!