Using Document Templates with Lists and Content Types in SharePoint

While the concept of document templates has been in SharePoint for a very long time, and content types since SharePoint 2007, I often find that many organizations don’t take complete advantage of their power, or don’t use them at all. In many cases, this is because they are unaware of how to properly do so.

This post is an attempt at demonstrating how templates can work with both libraries and document templates, taking full advantage of the metadata contained within SharePoint in the document. It will also describe an approach that we use to help with their maintenance.

I have described 3 walkthrough scenarios, each complete in its own right, but when taken together form a comprehensive template management strategy. These 3 scenarios are:

    1. Using a Library Template
    2. Using a Content Type Template
    3. Use A Library to Manage Your Document Templates

All of the examples here are shown using the 2010 suite of tools (Office 2010, SharePoint 2010). However, almost all of this capability is available in the 2007 family of products. Some of the menu locations are different with 2007 (Particularly with Word) , but the capabilities are there.

A – Using a Library Template

The simplest way of working with templates is to modify the default template for a document library. In the example below, we’ll create a new library, create metadata, display and use the metadata, and finally, create a new document based on this template. Several of the steps used in this example will be used in the other examples.

1. Create a new Document library

From your destination site, click either “Libraries” or “All site content” from the Quick Action pane on the left (note – the menu options that appear will vary according to the site template used, and the options that have been chosen by the site administrator). If neither option is available, select “Site Actions” then View All Site Content”.

Finally, from the resultant dialog, select “Document Library”, give the new library a name, and click the “Create” button. In this case, we’ll use “Letters”.

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2. Add metadata to the library

Now we need to add some metadata to this library. When the Library is first created, the Library ribbon tab will be open. From there click the “Library Settings” button.

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On the following screen, in the columns section, select “Create Column” (or add from existing site columns, and add the metadata fields that you want to use with this library. In this case, we’ll add a few (pretty boring) fields that you might want to use when tracking letters.

Side note – as a best practice, I try to never use spaces in the names when creating fields, lists, sites, etc. When spaces are used, SharePoint converts these spaces to _x0020_ in the internal field names. Once the field is created, the name can be changed, and that will only affect the display name, not the internal field name.

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3. Edit the default template

Once we have our metadata fields in place, it is time to edit the default template. This example is using a word template, but the same approach works for other Office content (Excel, Powerpoint, etc).

Without leaving the list settings screen, select Advanced Settings (in the General Settings section).

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On the next screen, there is a section for the library’s document template.  in that section, select the “(Edit Template)” link. Word should open (you may be prompted for credentials) and then you will be editing the library template.

4. Show the Document Information Panel

Since we want to incorporate the document metadata into the body of the document, we will want to use the document information panel. The document information panel will show the user editable metadata for a document. When the document is stored in a SharePoint library, or is a template for one, you can also expose the metadata from the library itself (or from a content type….more on that later). The nice part is that it can be displayed right at the top of the document, so if the properties are used throughout the document, you only need to edit them in one place. Unfortunately, it is turned off by default, and it really has to be one of the best hidden features in Word 2010. It was hard enough to find in 2007 – you had to add the developer tab to your ribbon, and then select “show information panel” there. In 2010, it’s hidden in the backstage.

Click File, and then click on the info tab. To the right of the screen you’ll see the section for properties. You might think that “Show All Properties” at the bottom would do it, but no. You need to hover your mouse over the “Properties” title, and select the dropdown arrow. You will be rewarded with two options, and  we want the first one, “Show Document Panel.

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The good part is, you only need to set it once, and it sticks. If you’re setting it for a template, it’ll stick there too. Once selected, you will be returned to the document and the document information panel will be displayed.

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You should see all of the metadata fields that you created for the list, in their proper column order, using the appropriate controls for their data type. Any metadata changes made in SharePoint will be reflected here, and conversely, SharePoint will be updated with any of the changes entered here. This is helpful, but it’s really powerful when you use the metadata to help form the document.

5. Quick Parts – Put the Metadata to work

To use a metadata field in the document, position your cursor where you would like the field to be displayed (or edited), click the “Insert” ribbon tab, select the “Quick Parts” button, select “Document Property” from the dropdown, and finally select the field that you want to use.

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Repeat the procedure for each field that you want to use. When finished, your document will look something like the following:

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Finally, Save your template, and exit Word. You’re pretty much done.

6. Test the Template

After you close Word, you should be returned to your library. To test your template, you’ll want to try creating a new document. Go ahead and do so – click on the Documents tab in the toolbar, and the click on the new document button.

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Go ahead and enter in the metadata values. Notice how the document updates as you do so. When complete, your document should look something like the image below:

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Finally, save the document, and exit Word (or just exit). You’ll likely be prompted for a name – give it one. After Word closes refresh the library view, and you should see your document, with all of the relevant metadata in the library view.

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B – Using A Content Type Template

Modifying a library template is relatively straightforward, but it does entail several limitations. Firstly, by using library defined metadata (and template) you are limiting yourself to only that library. Neither these fields nor this template can be used elsewhere in the site or site collection. In addition, all of the documents in the library must use this metadata definition.

In order to move beyond this limitation, SharePoint 2007 introduced the concept of Content Types. A detailed discussion of content types is beyond the scope of this article, but simply put, a content type is a collection of metadata fields that can be applied to a document. A content type is loosely analogous to a class in object oriented programming.

Luckily, content types contain not only metadata, but also documents. That means that we can define a content type in a similar fashion to the way we modified a list in the example above, but we can then take that content type and apply it to any library in the site collection. With the content type syndication features available in SharePoint 2010, we can apply it to any library in our organization (it’s no longer limited to even the farm). In addition, by using content types, any given library is no longer limited to a single set of metadata fields.

The process for creating a content type template is similar to creating a library template, but there are a few important differences. Where identical, I will reference the library template procedure.

1. Create The Content Type

Content types can be created at the site level or the site collection level. They will be available to their containing site and all sites below. If the content type is created at the root of the site collection, it will be available to the entire site collection.

To do this, navigate to the root site and select “Site Actions”  and then Site Settings

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You will then be presented with the Site Settings page. The Content types are stored in the Content Type Gallery, so next we will select “Site Content Types”.

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We are going to create the “Letter” Content Type, so go ahead and click the “Create” button. You will then be taken to the Content type creation screen. This is similar to creating the new list as we did in the example above, but this time, there are additional options that control how the content type works.

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We’ll be calling this content Type Letter, and it will inherit all of the properties (things like Name, and title) from the “Document” content type, which is in the “Document Content Types” category. Finally, we’ll want to group all of our content types in the same group, and since we don’t already have one, we’ll create the “My Custom Types” group.

Once created, we can add all of our custom fields to the content type. We’ll use the same fields that we did in the example above.

2. Add Metadata to the Content Type

Upon creation of the content type, you should be taken to the Content Type Information page for it. From here, go ahead and add the same columns that added to the list above.If you bump into a reserved or in use column name (i.e. First Name) either use a different name (ie  Recipient First) or use the existing site column. Also, don’t forget to put all of the new columns into a group for later maintenance). When complete, the information page should look similar to the screen shown below.

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Content types have some additional controls that allow you to control how the Document Information Panel appears within Word. In the settings section, Click on the “Document information Panel settings” link. On the next screen, ensure that the “Show Always” option is selected.

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You should also note that this is where you can control precisely what appears in the Document Information Panel. Should you choose to do so, you can replace the default panel with an InfoPath form, but I won’t be covering that in this post.

Once you are ready, click OK.

3. Create an Word File and Upload it

When a document library is created, a document template is normally created along with it, unless specified otherwise. This is not true for content types. Therefore, We need to create a document to use as the template for this content type. Initially the process is very straightforward. Start Word, create a new document. If you want to add content to the document at this point, that will work, but it’s not necessary. When ready, save the document to your file system and remember its name/location.

Once done, go back to the content type definition window, and click the “Advanced Settings” link. in the resulting window, click the browse button, and navigate to the file that you just created.

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Click OK, and then navigate back to the site. The content type is complete – for the moment.

4. Add a Library for Template Customization

Although we can edit the template once it’s been added to the content type, we can’t do anything with the metadata fields. That’s because Word can only reach back into the library that contains a document to see the metadata fields (the columns), and the content type gallery does not contain the columns that the content type itself does. We therefore need to create a document library that will use our content type. We will then create a new document that uses this content type, configure it the way we wish, and then replace the content type template with this document.

Firstly, add a new document library to a site (ideally the root site). We will be using it again below, and ultimately to house other document templates, so give it a logical name, something like “Document Templates”. Once created, we need to enable content types, and choose the our content type.

To enable content types, first navigate to the new library, and from the Ribbon, click the Library Tab, and then click the Library Settings button. From the Library Settings page, click the “Advanced Options” link. Once on the Advanced settings page, set “Allow management of content types?” to “Yes”.

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Notice that the document template setting is greyed out. That’s because the content type will control the template. Click OK to close the advanced options screen.

You will now notice that we have a content types section, and the Document content type is being used. We want to add our content type, and then remove the generic Document content type. Since a library must have at least one content type, we must first add ours, and then remove the Document type.

First, click the “Add from existing site content types” link.

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The “Add Content Types” dialog is loaded. Select your group from the dropdown, and add your content type to the Add list.

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Click OK when ready. You will be returned to Library Settings, and you should now see your content type as number 2 in the list. We now want to remove the Document type, but there’s a slight catch. It is the first item in the content type list. The first item is the default content type, and the default content type cannot be deleted. We must first therefore make our content type the default, and then we can delete the Document content type. To do this, we click the “Change new button order and default content type” link.

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From the next page, set the order of the Document content type to anything other than 1.

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Click OK, and then click on the “Document” link in the Content Types list.  You are then taken to the List Content Type settings screen. From here, click the “Delete this content type” link, and confirm. Note that you are NOT deleting the Document content type itself, but only its association with this document library.

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You should be returned to the Library Settings page, and see only one content type. Return to the library to perform the next step.

5. Create a New Document in the Library

From the library, click the Documents tab on the ribbon, and the the New Document button.

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Accept the confirmation, and Word will open.  You will not need to turn on the Information Panel, as that is controlled by the content type itself. Recreate the letter following the procedure laid out in step 5 above.

Once you finish using Quick Parts, save the letter back into the library (this isn’t absolutely necessary for what we’re doing right now, but will help us in the last example). Once saved to the library, save it once again, but this time to your file system, and take note of the location/name.

6. Replace the Existing Content Type Template

The content type template that you had originally created was blank, but was necessary for the content type to work at all. We now need to replace it with our formatted letter template. To do so, we need to navigate back to our site content gallery (Site Actions – Site Settings – Site Content Types). Locate and click on the site content type created above (Letter in this case), and the content type information screen appears. Click on advanced settings, and replace the existing template with the new one by uploading the new one.

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Close this window and return to your site. We’re ready to test this out.

7. Consume the New Content Type

Create a new library to test this. Configure it to use content types, add the new content type and remove the default Document content type. I’ve already outlined the procedure for doing this above with the template library, so I won’t repeat it here. Create a new document, change some of the metadata values and save it.

If you will not be using the procedure outlined below for template maintenance, you can delete the template library at this point.

In order to make changes to the template at this point, you will need to repeat the procedures in steps 5 and 6, immediately above, but you will be able to do this from any library configured to use this content type. There are a few down sides to maintaining the template in this way. For one, it is cumbersome, and for another, the ability to modify site content types, particularly at the root level is very high (or at least it should be….). This is a problem because you don’t necessarily want to charge farm administrators with the task of keeping document templates current.

Below, I will outline the last example which allows you to edit the template simply by editing a document in a library.

C – Using A Library to Manage Your Document Templates

So far, we have set up our template using our library metadata and stored it within our content type definition. We can use that content type throughout our site collection, but what happens when the requirements change for the site collection? In that case, someone with authority to do so must locate the content type definition, and repeat some of the steps above to update it.

If we centralize our document templates into a single, or even multiple document libraries, it makes for easier maintenance. It will be necessary for the template library to use all of the content types that it also contains, in order to do metadata maintenance.

The good news it that if you have been following along, you have already completed steps 1 and 2 below when you created the template library. Given that we’ve already been through many of the key concepts, I’ll keep the below examples brief.

1. Create a Template Library

If you have not already done so, create a new library for containing document templates. Go into advanced settings and enable content type. Add the content type of the template that you wish to manage. If necessary, delete the default “Document” content type.

The detailed procedure for doing this can be found above.

2. Add the Template to the Library

Either upload or create the document to be used as a template. Edit the document to suit your purposes.

3. Use the Document Directly as the Content Type Template

Here is where we deviate from where we have been before. First, you’ll want to take note of the URL of the file that you used in step 2. I make it a practice to always use relative URLS, which is everything to the right of the web application in the URL of the document. If your site collection is not at the root of the application, you will need to include the site collection path (i.e. /sites/mysitecoll).

The easiest way to get the document URL is by opening it in Word and getting it from the document information panel (File-Info).

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Navigate to the site content type gallery (Site Actions, Site Settings, Site Content Types), and open your custom content type. When the information screen opens, click the Advanced Options link. The document Template URL will be set to the file name of the current template (if one has been created). Replace that with the URL of your document in the library.

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Click OK, and return to your site.

4. Test it Out

If you don’t already have one, go ahead and create a new document library and have it use this content type. Create a few documents. As an added bonus, go back to the content type and add a mew metadata field. Edit the template in the template library to use this new field somewhere in the body of the document. Finally, edit one of the documents that use this template, and you should see the new metadata field appear in the Document Information Panel. If you create a new document, you should see the changes that were made to the template itself.

If you’ve made it this far, congratulations! Hopefully this demonstrates the power of content types combined with document templates, and helps provide some guidance on their use.

20 thoughts on “Using Document Templates with Lists and Content Types in SharePoint

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  2. najro

    Nice post.
    Can I ask a question regarding option C – Using a Library to Manage Your Document Templates?
    In this example you need to have more than 2 content types in the document library. Have you experienced that when using this approach (option C) the selected content type (selecting new document from Ribbon) is not displaying the correct metadata in word. It opens up the correct template but will be associated to another content type (that exist in the document library) during edit in word or when you save the document. You manually have to associate it with the wanted content type after storage. To avoid this behavior you have to go for option B, then the template and content type is displayed correctly in word and stored with correct content type in SharePoint.

  3. Dan Antion

    @najro – We experienced the same behavior you commented on. I wrote about this experience on my blog, SharePoint Stories, but I wanted to thank you and John for covering this topic better than I could have.

    Dan

  4. Joe Capka

    Just an FYI, when using a content type hub between site collections with different host headers, you need to upload the template directly into the content type. If they are in a library, the link is relative and thus fails on sites that have a different URL.

    Great post though, very useful.

  5. SPExpress

    If I understand correctly, scenario A. can be used for only one custom doc template, but use scenario B or C if you have more than one custom doc template (even if the metadata is the same or different for each template)?

  6. Michael

    Hi, thanks for a great article.

    I am trying to add a metadata field (step 5. Quick Parts – Put the Metadata to work) to the body of the document, but, it seems I can add all fields except a hyperlink – it’s missing in the Document Properties list. Is it possible to add it somehow?

    Sincerely, Michael.

  7. Avinash

    Hi,

    I have document id as well as version number and approval status in my document template header. When I use content type hub these are now working or not showing up. Any help. Thanks for this article, it worked perfectly when i did not use content type hubs

    Avinash

  8. Abhijith

    Hi,

    I want to create a content type in such a way that whenever a new Document library is created in any site of the site collection, this content-type should be associated to it. Thus all document libraries have the columns of this contenttype in column.

    Kindly give a procedure that exaclty as above out-of the box in SP 2010.

    Regards,
    Abhijith Shastry

  9. AlanC

    Hi John

    Even though this is some 2 years after you originally wrote the entry, it is one of the clearest I’ve read about the integration capabilities of SharePoint and Word (Office) documents, so thanks for the hard work of putting this together.

    I have a question though which is driving me nuts around the different types of column types / word properties that can be added successfully and which get displayed through the Document Information Panel which displays the Server side document properties. In the past, I’ve managed to successfully add a People or Group column type to a SharePoint Library, and to include that in the DIP.

    If the user uploads a document (or edits the properties after the upload), then the standard ‘Select People or Groups’ webpage dialog displays when the user wants to add or change a name. However if the user CREATES a document using the ‘New Document’ button in the library, (which after a bit of fiddling shows the DIP as well as the basic Word template) then there is a measure of uncertainty as to whether the Browse User or Check Names icon on the DIP can be activated.

    Normally this can be resolved by adding the site as a Trusted Site via the user’s browser’s Security settings, however sometimes this just doesn’t address the problem. Have you any ideas why there is occasional problem please? Is there a specific Server setting or element that needs to be running to make this work? Or a user setting in Word / Browser that is required? Or is there some form of handshake problem?

    What is really annoying is that the same template application can be used on different sites and it works on one but not the other!!

    Any help or links you can guide me towards will be very positively received.

    Thanks – Alan C.

  10. Anonymous

    Nice post, thank you, but can you explain me how I can get the Version number of SharePoint and/or the status (draft, published) into a word, excel or PowerPoint document?

  11. Ofer Gal

    I followed your instruction and it works fine except for manage metadata field.
    on the newly created document, the user can’t chose from this field.
    Also when using project templates. clicking the new, opens a blank project not the one in the template.

    Any Idea?

  12. Supriya Tenany

    I have a Picture/Hyperlink column in my document library. Would I be able to add pictures into the word document using Quick Parts? I don’t see any direct option. Is there any workaround?

  13. Pingback: Sharepoint 2013: How to generate programmatically a document from a template | DL-UAT

  14. Pingback: Type de contenu avec colonne et modèle de fichier | KTNN SharePoint

  15. diy

    Hola! I’ve been following your weblog ffor a long time now and finally
    got the bravery to go ahead and give you a shout out
    from Dallas Texas! Just wanted to tell you keep up the great work!

  16. pcaltair

    Hello,

    I am trying to setup pdf forms as content type on SP libraries.
    Have not been able to find an answer.
    Would appreciate if you can point me to right link,,
    Thanks

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