Practical SharePoint: Creating Manuals

One of the main content sources on my intranet is manuals and guides: policy guides, managers guides, SOP guides, etc. Sinces manuals /guides is such an important content source, I set out to find an ideal SharePoint solution for creating them. The current way that manuals/guides are implemented on our existing intranet is pretty simple: Dreamweaver template for overall structure, library items for navigation, and manually created content pages.

My first thought was to try to use the Sharepoint blog functionality. I liked how you can set up categories and then easily assign posts to those categories. A few problems came up: one, posts display in the order they are input-I needed to control the exact order; two, posts have comments that can be added-I needed that functionality removed. I was able to overcome issue one, partly, by creating a bit of a hack. I created a column that allowed me to insert a number that I could filter by. The big problem here is if I want to change the order of the posts in the future, i need to change the number for each post individually. Also, I tried using the CQWP to filter by the number and it wouldnt pull correctly in the quicklaunch. So, I abandoned the blog idea.

The solution I came up with that I am actually using is to create a publishing subsite for each manual. I created a custom content type, custom site columns, and several custom page layouts to accommodate the different types of page content that the manuals would have. Many of the manuals on the intranet have contextual navigation depending on what section you are in. I created those navigation areas with the reusable content lists, pulling them into the custom page layouts with a RichHtml field control.

In the page layouts, I wrapped the content areas in a div id that I then used to target all of the html and custom css, allowing me to override the built in css for the pages. I created custom styles for tables, quotes, and images.

It still isn’t an easy task to create a manual. i have many steps I have to go through to set one up, but I think the long-term benefits will be worth it. Content types, site columns and page layouts are the foundation of the publishing features in SharePoint and are essential skills to master.

One final tip-Document everything!!!! It takes a lot of time, but once I figure out a process for doing something in SharePoint, I create a bunch of screenshots and i document everything i did to create it. I also have a project management SharePoint site where I catalog every element created for a site (content types, columns, page layouts, master pages, lookup lists, etc.), every site created, and all documentation created. There is so much stuff, you really can’t depend on your memory, so write it down!

Well, I have to get back to figuring out to build my company intranet-I’ll post more as I figure more out ;0)

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