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How to Ensure that Users are Prompted for Document Metadata in Office 365 and SharePoint 2016

Tips for making sure users get metadata prompts when they upload a single document to SharePoint

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Did you know that when you don’t have any required columns on a document library in Office 365 (and SharePoint 2016) that users are not prompted to enter metadata when they upload a single document?

Last week, I had the opportunity to lead an introductory SharePoint workshop at the Computers in Libraries conference. During the class, I talked about the different ways a user can add documents to a document library, including dragging and dropping as well as uploading a document. After the class, Lennea Bower from Montgomery County (MD) Public Libraries told me that she has been frustrated because in their new Office 365 environment, when you upload a single document to a library with metadata, you are not prompted to enter the metadata values unless at least one field is required. They have scenarios where they don’t want to make attributes required, but they would like users to see the metadata prompts.

This stumped me because in SharePoint 2013 on premises and prior versions, users are always prompted to enter metadata for documents when they upload individual documents, whether or not there are required attributes. I thought that was the case in Office 365. I’m pretty sure at least that used to be the case. As in all things with Office 365, sometimes Microsoft will move your cheese when you aren’t paying attention and I think this might have happened!

upload document sharepoint

In SharePoint 2013 and earlier versions of SharePoint on premises, when you upload a single document from a screen like this one, the next screen you see are the prompts to enter document metadata.

Turns out, Lennea was right. If you are using Office 365 or SharePoint 2016 on premises, when you upload a single document to a SharePoint library, you will NOT get prompted for metadata if there are no required attributes. In other words, the experience is exactly the same as if you dragged the document into the library. Fortunately, I figured out a work-around. (I had some help from Marc Anderson and Rob Bogue who helped me test in different settings. It takes a village.)

If you want users to be prompted to enter document metadata when the upload a single document:

  • Enable content types in your library from Library Settings. Even if you do not actually add any custom content types, simply enabling content types will change the user experience so that when you upload an individual document, you will be prompted to enter any of the metadata associated with that library.
  • Use a custom content type. If you have any custom content types associated with your library, whether or not they have any required columns, users will be prompted for metadata when they upload an individual document. (This is basically the same thing as the first approach, because you would have to have content types enabled in order to have a custom content type!)
  • Make at least one attribute required. It doesn’t matter whether that attribute has a default value or not. As long as you have at least one required attribute, users will see the prompts to enter all of your attributes when they upload a single document.

Remember that no one gets prompted for metadata when they upload or drag and drop more than one document to a library. There is no work around for this so you will need to address this in training. However, if you want users who upload a single document to get prompted to enter metadata, use one of the approaches above.

Bonus Tip: There’s another metadata-related “gotcha” that you will probably need to address in training. The first time a user drags and drops a document into a document library that has a required metadata column, even if the column has a default value, the document will land as “checked out” until the person who dragged the document in to the library checks it in. In other words, it won’t be visible to anyone, even the Site Owner, until the original user checks it in. Yes, the Site Owner can assume ownership of the document and then check it in, but unless the Site Owner specifically goes to the library setting that allows you to assume control of documents that are not checked in, the document is essentially invisible to everyone except the person who dragged it in to the library! So, be sure to train your users to pay attention to the little green “checked out” arrow when they add content to a document library. You may think you have shared a document with your colleagues when, in fact, it may be invisible to everyone but you – until you check it in!

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