SharePoint for documentation projects

Most of the Technical Authors I have met don’t have a good thing to say about Microsoft SharePoint. In many ways, it represents how not to publish content online. It is seen as encouraging people to move print-optimised documents (Blobs) around, rather than units of content (Chunks), and users are typically left to rely on search to find which document contains the information they are looking for.

For all those issues, SharePoint may still have its place – for managing documentation projects.

Effective communication is a key part of a successful project. Ideally, it should be possible for someone to be able to familiarise themselves with a project quickly, and without the need to speak to someone. They should be able to find and read all the conversations different people have had with the customer, and locate all the relevant files. If the proverbial bus ran over a key member of staff, it should be possible for other team members to carry on.

Where you are dealing with external parties, you have to work around their preferred means of communication. In most cases, they chose to communicate using email. There can be emails between the customer and the Account Manager, the Project Manager and the writers. Ideally, everyone should be able to see the email correspondence between all the relevant parties when they first join the project team. So somehow, this correspondence needs to be available in one place.

Team members also need to access files, and they need these documents contextualised and summarised, so they can focus on the documents that are relevant to them at that moment in time.

SharePoint in Office 365 enables organisations to create “team sites”. These sites offer a number of tools for managing content and communicating on a project or team basis. It provides a basic wiki, links to document libraries, and it integrates with Microsoft Outlook in Office 365. This means you can keep project emails together in one place (with a project-specific mailbox), and you can create project calendars, project discussion boards project and task lists.

If you are using Adobe RoboHelp, Author-it, Doc-to-Help or MadCap Flare, your authoring tool will also integrate with SharePoint. Generally, this means you can use SharePoint for managing reviews and for the version control of your documentation projects.

So, if you are looking for a tool for managing projects and collaborating with participants in a project, SharePoint may be worth considering.

What’s your opinion of SharePoint?

Please share your thoughts below.


Larry Kunz

I agree, Ellis. I don’t much like SharePoint, but my clients do. I post review drafts there, and the SMEs post their comments. They find it much more palatable than using my preferred system (EasyDITA) for commenting. And the auto-generated email notifications are nice.

When in Rome, you do as the Romans do. My Romans like SharePoint.

Niels Grundtvig Nielsen

I do value SharePoint as a document storage system with access rights, and appreciate being able to use thoughtful metadata to retrieve different document sets that may or may not include overlaps. Our long-term aim is to store WebHelp as well as .pdf, though I feel I’ll have many a battle ahead :-} at the moment, and in my environment, every single navigation-click triggers the “are you sure you want to do this?” dialogue. Not the smoothest user experience!

Miryam Brand

There are also solutions for extending SharePoint to managing structured content. That’s what x:Point does, and it allows you to benefit from both worlds – SharePoint project management and DITA-based structured content.

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